Kevorkian ally calls death a lifestyle

December 19, 1993|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Staff writer

A sparsely furnished basement unit in a Catonsville garden apartment complex is home to the man who posted Dr. Jack Kevorkian's bond on Friday. In the carpeted living room are two ** easy chairs, an end table, a lamp, a television, a VCR and a telephone. In the dining room, a solitary folding chair. Bare walls.

John Cromwell Tydings Jr. explains that he is an "anti-social quietist" who lives alone and doesn't receive visitors, but never feels bored or lonely.

After all, he spends his spare time contemplating his favorite subject: Death.

"I believe in live-and-let-live, or live-and-let-die, whichever you prefer," said the 44-year-old state government real estate appraiser, who, under the name John Doe, has penned a book on death titled, "The Cure-All."

Death, to Mr. Tydings, should be nothing less than an optional lifestyle. Thus, when Dr. Kevorkian arose as a national figure for helping terminally ill patients end their lives -- all the while insisting the practice should be legal -- Mr. Tydings had found his hero.

And when the 65-year-old doctor became frail during a 17-day hunger strike in a jail in Pontiac, Mich., Mr. Tydings announced he would kill himself if Dr. Kevorkian died. Mr. Tydings said he wasn't trying to make a statement. He just didn't want to live in a world where Dr. Kevorkian was not alive to fight for the right to die.

"I am in no position to lodge a social protest or issue an ultimatum because I lack the moral weight to do so," Mr. Tydings said yesterday.

"I'm just an average person who wanted to demonstrate how deeply concerned I was about the issue and how devastated I would have been by the death of Dr. Death.

"It was my honest response to a situation I deemed intolerable. Dr. Kevorkian is the only physician involved in the physician-assisted suicide movement. If he dies, the movement would probably die with him and death would continue to reign supreme in the public's consciousness as the ultimate evil."

Mr. Tydings says he hasn't met Dr. Kevorkian, but the two have corresponded for about two years since he sent the doctor a manuscript for "The Cure-All," which he describes as "the ultimate self-help book."

The 200-page book, published by an Ellicott City vanity press, carries a statement attributed to Dr. Kevorkian: "There is no doubt that it is controversial, but what you say and how you say it are so understandable and unarguable."

Mr. Tydings said the book is not a how-to manual for suicide, but on the cover is written: "For every problem, there is at least one solution."

Leaning forward on the folding chair retrieved from his dining room, Mr. Tydings is visibly enthusiastic when discussing society's "antiquated" attitudes toward death.

"We tend to look upon death as the ultimate evil when in reality it is the ultimate solution," he said. "I've never met an unhappy ghost. That proves death is the cure-all.

"Life is not always good, and death is not always bad. Only the living, thinking individual can decide which is better," he said.

"It's my thesis that only by embracing death emotionally as well as intellectually can we get the firmest possible grip on life. So I consider myself as much pro-life as I do pro-death."

Mr. Tydings, who said he is a lifelong Baltimore-area resident and an honors graduate of Towson State University, said he was firming up plans to distribute his book when the Kevorkian "crisis" broke.

Dr. Kevorkian surrendered to authorities last month after a third charge of violating Michigan's ban on assisted suicide and immediately went on a hunger strike.

Mr. Tydings, along with several other Kevorkian supporters, offered to post bail, which was originally set at $50,000, but Dr. Kevorkian refused the offers, saying he did not want to "buy" freedom.

When a judge reduced the doctor's bail to $100 Friday, several supporters insisted on putting up the money, much as diners would argue over picking up the tab in a restaurant, Mr. Tydings said.

"It was just a matter of fighting for the check and I won," said Mr. Tydings, who said he was chosen for the honor because he traveled all the way from Baltimore.

Dr. Kevorkian was freed from jail Friday after promising a judge that he would not help anyone else die while an appeals court considers the constitutionality of assisted suicide.

rTC Dr. Kevorkian has attended 20 deaths since 1990, including five since assisting suicide was made illegal in Michigan. He is

challenging the constitutionality of the law, which was passed expressly to stop him. He argues that suffering people have a right to die with dignity and to get medical help in doing so.

Mr. Tydings said he returned late Friday night from his third trip to the Detroit area in the past week-and-a-half. Yesterday he was happy to discuss his philosophies of life and death. As for his lifestyle, he conceded he could be considered eccentric.

"Maybe I'm a nut, but if I am, I'm not the kind of nut you have to worry about. I pose no threat to you or your friends or your family or anyone. I'm completely harmless," he said.

"I'm proud to be a freak in a world of conformists."

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