Watch this clip before reading on.
‘You don’t know Jack’ was released by HBO Films in April of 2010. The role of Jack Kevorkian led to a nomination and win for Al Pacino at the Emmy’s. The film gives viewers an insider perspective of the life and work of Jack Kevorkian, or as he is often called, Doctor Death. Regardless of your views on physician-assisted suicide, this movie evokes thoughts on death and dying, the role of God in our destiny and the standards set forth in the Hippocratic Oath.
Athena du Pre (2010) introduces us to the Hippocratic Oath that has been a major influential code for physicians for many years.There have been many changes to the oath over the years; as medicine and time changed the need for a modern oath arose. The current version of the oath contains statements such as:
“If it is given me to save a life, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to take a life; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty. Above all, I must not play at God (Tyson, 2001).”
This statement is meant to draw the line between physician and God. What gives a person the right to take a life? Should this even be an option? There are a lot of things that are open to debate but as this clip shows, great respect, compassion and sympathy must be given when speaking with patients about this subject. As the scene shows, Jack Kevorkian (Al Pacino) communicates with the patient in a calm and reassuring manner. He speaks directly to the patient and acknowledges their presence instead of speaking to other people on his behalf, a skill that Athena du Pre (2010) suggests caregivers follow when communicating with people with disabilities (p. 147). There are times when Dr. Kevorkian lacks compassion, for example when he talks about sensitive subject matter such as the organ donation. His goal in communicating this to the patient may have been just to make him aware of his options and the benefits of organ donation but his delivery of this information could have been perceived as disrespectful, as was illustrated on the faces of the people in the room. However, when it comes to explaining the medical information behind his invention, Jack does a wonderful job at maintaining direct eye contact with the patient, making the process understandable and thorough.
Patients like the one seen here, are often talked down to or are not able to provide input regarding their care because of their disability. You can tell that Jack understands this delicate situation and has compassion for this patient. It is evident that Jack has a patient-centered focus on care. As Athena du Pre (2010) suggests, “patient-centered care has been linked to favorable patient outcomes” (p. 57). All of Jack’s patients were very thankful for his compassion and empathy for the pain and suffering they experienced. He was favored because of his approach to medicine; putting the patient first.
The Hippocratic Oath still has great value in modern medicine. It sets a standard of care for physicians to adhere to. This film is a great agent for ongoing discussion of physician-assisted suicide. There is no denying that this film is meant to sway viewers towards feeling compassion for terminal patients who wish to end their suffering as well as feeling compassion for the work of Dr. Jack Kevorkian. This film makes me question how one can be considered ‘acting as if they were God’ if they side with a patient who wishes to end their suffering but not ‘acting as if they were God’ when they prescribe medications to alleviate symptoms or cure illnesses; is this not a method of intervention or is this not also going against God’s plan? Also, when we have a pet that is sick it is considered inhumane to make them suffer through illnesses yet it is considered an act of kindness to put them down and end that suffering. Is it that we hold animals to a higher standard of care or a lower standard and what does that say about our society? Personally, this film really registered with me and reminded me that some things, like medicine, are best served without religion. I have always been a firm believer in the freedom of choice for an individual and I believe that has to include the way a person chooses to live their life and how they choose to die.
I propose you watch this film with an open mind. If you agree or if you do not agree, I am certain you will take something away from film.
Until next time…
Athena du Pre. (2010). Communicating about health. New York: Oxford University Press.
Tyson, P. (2001, March 27). The Hippocratic Oath today. Retrieved from