When it comes to bedside manner, "suicide doctor" Jack Kevorkian really missed the boat.
At least that's the opinion of a rival assisted-suicide advocate who claims to operate secret "euthanasia cruises"--suicide voyages for which terminally ill passengers from around the country pay $500 for the privilege of being wined, dined, sedated and tossed overboard.
During a phone interview last week, the professed founder of the Florida-based death cruises likened Kevorkian's methodology to something out of a 1940s horror movie.
"He's sort of like Dr. Cyclops with all his tubes, his syringes and his machine," says cruise director Harrison T. Rogers, who identifies himself only as a psychologist in an unnamed Midwestern city. "What he's doing is a little grisly."
Many people would undoubtedly say the same thing about Rogers' bizarre boat rides, which, according to his claims, set sail from a Fort Lauderdale marina once a month with up to 25 terminal patients and their loved ones aboard. Rogers claims that since 1993, when he and a handful of like-minded "trained medical professionals" first began offering the nonprofit cruises, he's helped usher more than 100 grateful passengers to watery graves. "The way we set this program up, it's an adventure," insists Rogers, who sounds middle-aged. "It's kind of like going to the theatre and having the last supper and just going out partying. Then suddenly you go down into Davy Jones' locker and it's all over. And it's great, because you planned it that way."
Noting the wide array of luxuries available to passengers--optional amenities include the round-the-clock services of licensed sex surrogates of both genders--Rogers says, "We're delighted to offer an innovative and humanitarian plan that circumvents the archaic laws of the land."
According to Rogers, practically all of his passengers have been elderly and suffering from debilitating, life-threatening diseases; he says most have been recruited through lectures directed to underground senior-citizen organizations and euthanasia groups across the nation.
To book passage, a would-be client calls a toll-free number and leaves his own phone number on a message machine. (New Times learned of the 800 number, which is believed to be headquartered in a private home in Hoboken, New Jersey, through a press release that arrived in the mail earlier this month.)
After arrangements are made and legal paperwork completed (because of the illegal nature of his operation, Rogers naturally can't elaborate on details), clients and their guests rendezvous in Fort Lauderdale, where they participate in a daylong orientation session. On Saturday, passengers board a 150-foot yacht for a four-hour cruise into international waters off the coast of Florida. At noon on Sunday, terminally ill voyagers enjoy a gourmet brunch spiked with euphoric drugs before being dropped into the ocean with weights strapped to their ankles. Celestial organ music drones in the background.
Says Rogers, "People are really interested and excited about the possibility of terminating this way."
Well, not everyone. Those in the know seem to agree that as a viable euthanasia technique, Rogers' lethal Love Boat is just a bunch of bilge.
Members of the Hemlock Society, a national organization that supports voluntary euthanasia through nonviolent assisted suicide, could scarcely control their laughter upon hearing of Rogers' cruises.
"This sure sounds phony to me," says Alice Prendergast, president of the society's Phoenix chapter. "I can't believe this is real."
Neither can Carlos Hudson, co-director of the Hemlock Society's Fort Lauderdale chapter. "We've certainly never heard of this outfit," says Hudson, who suspects a college prank. "A lot of people will probably get a chuckle out of this, but it doesn't have anything to do with reality. Somebody's pulling your leg."
Calls to a number of Florida organizations that might be expected to have heard rumors of the cruise produced additional amused skepticism. Discounting Rogers' story as either a hoax or a scam, a reporter for the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel says, chuckling, "Is someone who's so ill that he's contemplating suicide really going to spend his last hours on Earth rolling around with one of these sex surrogates? I personally have a real hard time with that one."
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Asked why the biggest euthanasia organization in the world has absolutely no knowledge of his activities, Rogers counters that the Hemlock Society is well aware of what he's up to. "They'll never publicly admit it, though, because we're kind of competition for them," maintains the self-styled suicide czar. "They kind of frown on the fact that we're making such a joyous occasion out of this."
But Rogers is far less successful in explaining away a glaring flaw in his luxury-suicide scenario: After one of his passengers has taken the plunge, how will survivors ever hope to settle the estate or deal with life insurance companies without benefit of a body, a death certificate or even documentation that an accident at sea actually occurred? In the 18 months he's been feeding customers to the fishes, Rogers insists no insurance company has ever rejected a claim resulting from one of his cruises. "From what I understand, there have been no challenges because the deceased was lost at sea," he says, stammering. "Keep in mind that in almost every instance where there has been insurance involved, the people have been in their 70s or 80s, so they are at an age when it's not questionable that they would terminate."
Explaining that he's late for a top-secret appointment with Oprah Winfrey's people (so secret, in fact, that, just as Rogers predicts, no one in Winfrey's production office will admit knowing anything about it), the suicide skipper prepares to sign off.
But not before first promising to alert the media the minute he hammers out a deal to broadcast one of his seagoing terminations on national television.