I’m not sure what’s more disturbing in this story: the support for doctor-assisted suicide, or the inability to see Jack Kevorkian as the poster boy for the inevitable abuse of such a practice:

More than two-thirds of Americans believe there are circumstances in which a patient should be allowed to die, but they are closely divided on whether it should be legal for a doctor to help terminally ill patients end their own lives by prescribing fatal drugs, a new AP-Ipsos poll finds.

The results were released Tuesday, just days before Dr. Jack Kevorkian is freed from a Michigan prison after serving more than eight years for second-degree murder in the poisoning of a man with Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Kevorkian’s defiant assisted suicide campaign, which he waged for years before his conviction, fueled nationwide debate about patients’ ”right to die” and the role that physicians should play.

Though demonized by his critics as a callous killer, Kevorkian ā€” who is to be released Friday ā€” maintains relatively strong public support. The AP-Ipsos poll found that 53 percent of those surveyed thought he should not have been jailed; 40 percent supported his imprisonment. The results were similar to an ABC News poll in 1999 that found 55 percent disagreeing with his conviction.

There was no “demonization” of Kevorkian, simply a factual description of the actions of the man who reveled in the nickname “Dr. Death.” Kevorkian is a ghoul whose obsession with death led him to provide aid-in-dying services to dozens of people, lots of whom were not terminally ill, some of whom were simply depressed, none of whom he was interested in helping as a physician; he preferred to be their second-hand executioner (and I expect the second-hand part was nothing more than an attempt to evade a murder conviction). How anyone can continue to think that he deserved to be walking around loose escapes me.

The new AP-Ipsos poll asked whether it should be legal for doctors to prescribe lethal drugs to help terminally ill patients end their own lives ā€” a practice currently allowed in Oregon but in no other states. Forty-eight percent said it should be legal; 44 percent said it should be illegal.

I think a spokesman for the California Medical Association put it well when he commented on a proposal for the Golden State to emulate Oregon, “Physicians look at it as the ultimate abandonment of a patient,” said medical association spokesman Ron Lopp. “That’s not the physician’s role, to aggressively hasten death.” The potential for abuse is enormous, the slippery slope to forced euthanasia is greasy (as the Netherlands experiment in allowing doctors to decide when patients’ live are no longer worth living demonstrates), and the practice itself is wrong, both because of the immorality of suicide (from the Christian standpoint, it is the ultimate denial of God’s sovereignty over life) and because it turns doctors into instruments of death rather than of healing.

There’s an interesting divide between those who believe doctor-assisted suicide should be allowed and those who don’t:

Only 34 percent of those who attend religious services at least once a week think it should be legal for doctors to help terminally ill patients end their own lives. In contrast, 70 percent of those who never attend religious services thought the practice should be legal.

Just 23 percent of those who attend religious services at least weekly would consider ending their own lives if terminally ill, compared to 49 percent of those who never attend religious services.

To a significant degree, the division is about whether we see ourselves at the center of the universe or God; responsible to no one but ourselves or to God; morally autonomous beings who are our own ultimate authority, or creations of a loving God who has directed how to live. As in so many issues facing society these days (abortion, gay rights, embryonic stem cell research, genetic engineering, etc.) this is the divide that matters most.

UPDATE: If you’re in the mood for a horror story. read Wesley Smith’s account of what Jack Kevorkian was really interested in during his death-dealing rampage. Hint: it wasn’t compassion toward the terminally ill.