By Michael E. Miller
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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" A suicide voyages for which terminally ill passengers from around the nation pay $500 for the privilege of being wined, dined, sedated, and tossed overboard. Harrison T. Rogers, the man who purports to have dreamed up the death cruises, likens 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 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's 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. "It's kind of like going to the theater and having the last supper and just going out partying. Then suddenly you go down into Davy Jones's locker and it's all over. And it's great, because you planned it that way."
Noting the wide array of luxuries -- 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 disease; he says most have been recruited through lectures directed to underground senior-citizen organizations and euthanasia groups across the U.S.
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 based 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 (owing to 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 yacht for a four-hour cruise into international waters off the coast. At noon on Sunday, the 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's 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's cruises. "We've certainly never heard of this outfit," says Carlos Hudson, co-director of the Hemlock Society's Fort Lauderdale chapter. "A lot of people will probably get a chuckle out of this," he adds, suspecting a college prank in the making, "but it doesn't have anything to do with reality. Somebody's pulling your leg."
Asked why the biggest euthanasia organization in the world has absolutely no knowledge of his activities, Rogers (who, to judge from his telephone voice, is middle-age) counters that the Hemlock Society is well aware of what he's up to. "They'll never 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 eighteen 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. "Keep in mind that in almost every instance where there has been insurance involved, the people have been in their seventies or eighties, 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 to 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.