Fighting for a Dignified Death


John Doe, an anonymous AIDS patient who has joined with Jack Kevorkian to challenge California’s ban on assisted suicide, wants help in dying “when the time comes.”

But he doesn’t want help from Kevorkian.

In his first interview since he agreed to represent the interests of Californians “who seek a peaceful, dignified, physician-assisted death,” the 36-year-old film editor says Kevorkian’s style is not for him.

“Some of the methods I’m aware of that he uses in Michigan seem kind of--ah, well--they wouldn’t be options I would choose for myself. I think his heart is in the right place, but sometimes he has an image problem. Perhaps it is one of the ironies of life that he and I, two such different people, have come together on this common ground.”


Kevorkian and the dying Los Angeles area man are plaintiffs in a federal suit in Los Angeles seeking to overturn the state’s law against assisted suicide.

Although the U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear Kevorkian’s challenges to Michigan’s laws on assisted suicide, the judge hearing the L.A. case compared assisted suicide to other privacy issues, such as abortion, and granted the two men legal standing to bring their case to court last spring.

In her opinion, U.S. District Court Judge Consuelo Marshall wrote: “The potential psychological harm resulting from state prohibition of the decision to end one’s life is tremendous and is clearly analogous to that resulting from state control of the abortion decision.”

According to Doe’s attorney, Michael Field, the suit is one in a series of challenges to state bans on assisted suicide, including two currently being heard by U.S. appeals courts in Washington and New York.

For Doe, a blond-haired, blue-eyed native Californian, death may come before any court decision. He was found to be HIV-positive in 1984 and developed full-blown AIDS in 1993.

Always slim and fit, the 5-foot, 7-inch man now weighs just 130 pounds. But until a recent bout with pneumonia, he worked out at a gym five days a week. He struggles to keep going until his lawsuit is resolved.


“I drive to work, I pay my taxes, I do as much or more than a healthy person because I know I don’t have that much time left. I’ve always felt strongly about civil rights and that is why I agreed to be involved in this case, even though it’s possible I won’t live to see it through.

“Although Dr. Kevorkian and I have our differences, we both ultimately are after the same thing,” he says.

For John Doe, that is access to an IV drip of morphine with the knowledge and support of his medical team and loved ones. “I want to be able to die without having my doctors or nurses or companion or friend fear being arrested.”

Until that time comes, he does what he has to to stay alive. And that includes any number of painful and invasive therapies, including weekly injections into his left eyeball to treat an infection that threatens to rob him of his sight.

“I am a human being. I do not want to die. I would love a cure for AIDS to happen this second. But realistically, I’m so immune-deficient, it’s doubtful how much good [the lawsuit] will do.”

Although Kevorkian says he has counseled suicidal AIDS patients, he says he has never been asked to help one die. And, lawsuit or not, John Doe isn’t likely to be the first. But he does know what he wants.


“My mind is clear. I have full mental capacity. But there will be a time when I need help. I have my criteria. When I am blind, when I am paralyzed and unable to enjoy the quality of life I’ve been accustomed to, I really hope I can have a quick, painless exodus.”