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Choosing Not to Die Alone : Dying: To some of his patients, Dr. Jack Kevorkian was an "angel of death" who could ease the "pain of deciding whether to live or die," one expert says.


On a glass-top table in the center of the family room, Catherine Andreyev's medicines were sorted out in coffee cups. There were sleeping pills, Tylenol with codeine, barbiturates, tranquilizers, narcotics and a mug full of morphine patches.

"I fully expected to walk in there one morning and find the cups empty and Catherine dead," recalls her neighbor, Diane Collins.

"Each sleeping pill was tiny, a grain of sand. You could pop 20 of them down in a gulp of Jell-O . . . . But, of course, that's not what she did."

Instead, Andreyev, who had cancer, persuaded two friends to drive her six hours from her suburban Pittsburgh home to a modest house outside Detroit for an appointment with Dr. Jack Kevorkian.

No one knows for certain why Andreyev made that choice. But Collins has an idea:

"I think Catherine was saying 'I didn't have enough time to make anything out of my life, so I'll make something out of my death.' "


Since June of 1990, Jack Kevorkian has helped 15 people "make something" of their deaths.

Although the numbers are too small to be statistically valid, some patterns are beginning to emerge. Eleven of the patients were women; all were ill, all were white, most middle-aged. In addition, most:

* Had months, even years of life ahead of them. They said it was not pain but their weariness with life that made them want to die.

* Were divorced, widowed or lifelong singles. Many had recently suffered the loss of a loved one.

* Seemed depressed or withdrawn to their family and friends.

Suicide experts recognize such themes. But what propelled these four men and 11 women to kill themselves? Why did they seek out a high-profile stranger at life's most private and profound moment?

"It's a paradox, but sometimes people who kill themselves are trying to connect with life by taking leave of life," says sociologist Ronald Maris, who heads the Center for the Study of Suicide at the University of South Carolina.

Through the highly public exit offered by Kevorkian, some connections are assured: with the media, with a famous doctor, with a cause, even with history.

Kevorkian, who has been barred from practicing medicine in Michigan and faces license revocation in California as well, refused to discuss his patients' motives in seeking him out.

"For some, choosing Dr. Kevorkian may be a way of finally--for the first time perhaps--creating a social contact . . ." says Janet Billson of the American Sociological Assn.

For the never-married Catherine Andreyev, who was a schoolteacher, friends say the need to be a part of something grander than her own modest life may well have been a factor in her decision to go to Michigan to die.

"In life, she was practically invisible," says one longtime acquaintance. "There is no doubt that, because of Kevorkian, Catherine was larger in death than she ever was in life."

Andreyev, like most of Kevorkian's patients, lived alone.

"We know that people who are alone tend to commit suicide more often. Life seems to have less meaning," says Faye Girsh, a San Diego psychologist and right-to-die advocate. "Living alone is harder . . . ."

And so is dying. Like most of Kevorkian's patients, Andreyev had access to enough prescription medicines to kill herself without help. But, by all accounts, she never tried.

"People don't like the prospect of sitting in their apartments alone, brewing a (lethal) cup of tea, possibly vomiting everything thing up and never being found until they are totally deteriorated," says Girsh.

"If people had a choice of having a nice, kind doctor give them an injection and sit by their bedside until they die, wouldn't that be better?"


Marjorie Wantz, who was Kevorkian's second patient, had seen the publicity surrounding Kevorkian's first patient, Janet Adkins, and was excited by the attention her own death promised.

"How soon will (the media) be told?" she asked in a videotape Kevorkian made days before helping her die Oct. 23, 1991. "Will I get a full, complete autopsy? I want the whole thing."

Wantz, 58, who had been involuntarily admitted to psychiatric hospitals twice during the year preceding her death, contacted Kevorkian after several failed suicide attempts at home.

One day, her husband, Bill, said she tried to shoot herself in the head but missed and shot a living-room chair instead. On another occasion, she sat for hours in an exhaust-filled garage but never lost consciousness.

"I just can't seem to pull it off on my own," Wantz complained to Kevorkian in the videotape.

According to the American Psychological Assn., most women who try to kill themselves botch the job.

Women attempt suicide three times more often than men do. But every year in the United States, more than 24,000 men succeed, compared to 6,000 women, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

The promise of certainty from "a doctor who so far has not failed," according to Hemlock Society founder Derek Humphrey, can be very seductive and also may play a role in Kevorkian's popularity.

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