If it were possible to euthanize a telephone, Diane Hackett would pull the plug today.
Her home phone number, it turns out, used to be the number of Jack Kevorkian.
Early in his career as the nation's most enthusiastic assister of suicides, Kevorkian had his home number listed in all the Detroit-area directories. (Viewing himself as "just another kind of public servant," Kevorkian has gone to great lengths to be accessible to his constituents, including advertising in the classified sections of local newspapers.)
Only after his 17th or 18th assist--and a media-forced move out of his two-room apartment above a suburban Detroit statuary and gargoyle shop a few years ago--did Kevorkian heed his attorney's advice and take a new unpublished phone number.
Sometime later, Kevorkian's old number was issued to the Hackett family. And that, recalls Hackett, is "when all you-know-what broke loose."
Although Kevorkian has instructed directory assistance operators to give callers his attorney's number--or his new home phone in a "true emergency," many callers have apparently not gotten the message.
And now that Kevorkian is in the news again with last week's federal court decision on assisted suicide and his acquittal Friday in two assisted suicides in Michigan, the phone in Hackett's modest ranch home north of Detroit has been noisier than ever.
"In the middle of the night, in the middle of the day, really I'd have to say just about every hour of every day now, they're calling him," says Hackett. "Lately, I just got to ignore it if I'm busy with one of the kids."
One of Hackett's five young children answered the phone on a recent afternoon. "Mama," she called out. "It's them again."
In fact, it was not one of "them"--the family's code for someone old or infirm or anxious or desperate--and suicidal. It was yet another reporter calling for Kevorkian's reaction to the decision by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which overturned the state of Washington's ban on physician-assisted suicide.
The ruling, which is likely to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, apparently strikes down similar laws in eight other Western states, including California, and is expected to have an impact on a pending Kevorkian challenge to California's law, which makes aiding a suicide a felony.
Although Hackett doesn't know for certain--"I don't want to pry, you know"--she's guessing that suicide-bent Westerners are the source of the increase in calls to her little princess phone in the back bedroom. "Maybe they have the idea that it's legal now, got to act quick."
Not that Hackett is unsympathetic. She is. "They're so sick; they're so sick," sighs the 43-year-old doll maker and foster mom. "Some of them drop the phone, or don't speak for a bit 'cause they can't talk very well. I always wait. I'd never want to be rude. You hear the hurt and the pain. It just puts tears in your eyes."
Hackett's religion teaches that suicide is wrong. "What would be nice is if they could just go to sleep and pass on like that, but sometimes it doesn't happen like that, does it?
"When I tell them there is no Dr. Kevorkian here, that he never was here, it's the most horrible pause. You know, you can feel how disappointed they are. I never can think what to tell them, except I'm sorry, real, real sorry."