Final Exit Network

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The Final Exit Network is an American all-volunteer organization that offers counseling, support, and guidance in a successful suicide to individuals who are suffering from an intolerable illness. The organization believes that individuals suffering from intolerable illnesses deserve a dignified death.[1] The organization promotes the use of living wills, advance directives, durable powers of attorney for health care, and do not resuscitate orders, and advocates for individuals when their Advance Directives are not being followed.

Final Exit Network originated as the Hemlock Society, which later was renamed End-of-Life Choices. End-of-Life Choices merged with the Compassion in Dying Federation to form the currently existing group Compassion and Choices, whose efforts primarily promote legislative change. Some of the former Hemlock Society's leadership formed Final Exit Network, which focuses on providing compassionate support to the dying as opposed to promoting legislative change. Final Exit Network is a member of the World Federation of Right to Die Societies (and Compassion and Choices is not). Its current president is Wendell Stephenson.[2] Derek Humphry, founder of the Hemlock Society, is a member of the Final Exit Network's advisory board, and author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Final Exit first published in 1991.

The Exit Guide program of Final Exit Network provides compassionate support to many whom other organizations may turn away, accepting people with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, Alzheimer's disease, congestive heart failure, emphysema, cancer, and other incurable illnesses. Final Exit Network conducts a rigorous review process and protocols to ensure that applicants for support in their "self deliverance" are suitable candidates and are not suicidal.

Final Exit Network was featured in "The Suicide Plan" (A Frontline (U.S. TV series)) on November 13, 2012.[3]

Doreen Dunn case[edit]

Doreen Dunn, 57, died in 2007 at her home in Apple Valley, Minnesota, just south of the Minneapolis-St. Paul area.[4] Five years later the District Attorney of Dakota County obtained a grand jury indictment charging the 501(c)(3) corporation, Final Exit Network, Inc., and four of its volunteer Exit Guides with various charges related to allegedly assisting in a suicide in connection with Dunn's death. [5]

The Dakota County judge, Karen Asphaug, in 2013 dismissed all the charges against one of the defendants, former Final Exit Network President Ted Goodwin of Punta Gorda, Florida.[6] Another defendant and former Final Exit Network president, Jerry Dincin, died. [7] Charges remain pending against the corporation and two Exit Guides, Roberta Massey and Lawrence Egbert. [8]

In her 2013 rulings, Judge Asphaug also found Minnesota's law against "assisting in a suicide" in part unconstitutional in violation of the First Amendment.[9] The statute prohibits "advising, encouraging, or assisting" in a suicide.[10] Judge Asphaug ruled that the prohibition on "advising" in regard to "suicide" unconstitutionally prohibited free speech, and the State could prosecute only for actual "assisting" in a suicide, and for "encouraging" only in limited circumstances. [11]

The State, openly conceding its pending case against the Final Exit Network defendants was crippled, appealed to the Court of Appeals of Minnesota. [12] The Court of Appeals' Final Exit Network decision was even more favorable to the Final Exit Network defendants than the trial judge's ruling. The Court of Appeals ruled that it would be unconstitutional under the First Amendment free speech clause to prosecute anyone for "advising" or "encouraging" a "suicide" under any circumstances, and a charge could go forward and conviction obtained only based on proof of actual "assisting" in a suicide.[13]

The State appealed again, this time to the Supreme Court of Minnesota. [14] In June of 2014, the Supreme Court of Minnesota dismissed the State's appeal, thus effectively letting the Court of Appeals' Final Exit Network decision stand, and sending the case back to the Dakota County trial court for a jury trial under the newly restricted interpretation of the statute.[15] As of this writing (September 2014) the trial had not yet been scheduled.

Jana Van Voorhis case[edit]

Jana Van Voorhis was an Arizona woman with a history of mental illness whose suicide was allegedly assisted by the Final Exit Network in 2007.[16] Two members of the Final Exit Network were charged with aiding in a suicide (which is considered manslaughter under Arizona law) and conspiracy to commit manslaughter. Two others were charged only with conspiracy.[citation needed]

Two of the defendants, Wye Hale-Rowe and Roberta Massey, both elderly and in poor health, pleaded guilty to minor charges in plea bargains that ensured they would not run any risk of being sentenced to a prison term.[17] The trial of the other two began on April 4, 2011. After a two-week trial, Final Exit Network's medical director, Dr. Lawrence Egbert, was found not guilty by an eight-member jury. [18]

The jury was "hung" on the case against a volunteer Exit Guide, Franklin Langsner. Before his retrial, scheduled for August 4, 2011, the State offered him a plea bargain "he could not refuse," he said. He pleaded guilty to a minor misdemeanor and was sentenced to one year on probation, following which his "record" would be expunged.[19]

Thus the State was unable to secure any conviction by a jury, and nobody from Final Exit Network pleaded guilty to assisting in a suicide, or to any felony charge.[20]

John Celmer case[edit]

On February 25, 2009, four members of the Final Exit Network were arrested for allegedly assisting the suicide of a cancer patient, John Celmer, of Cumming, Georgia, a small town north of Atlanta. Those arrested were Ted Goodwin, Claire Blehr, Dr. Lawrence Egbert, and Nicholas Alec Sheridan.[21] The organization, Final Exit Network, Inc., was also indicted on a racketeering charge.

Opponents of the right to die hailed the arrests. On the other hand, bioethicist Jacob M. Appel called the group "courageous"[22][not specific enough to verify] and bioethics attorney William Colby of the Center for Practical Ethics questioned whether "trying to round up people in groups" was productive.[23]

On April 1, 2010, the four Final Exit Network defendants pleaded not guilty to charges of assisted suicide, evidence tampering and racketeering.[24]

The defendants moved to dismiss the indictment on grounds that the Georgia statute on aiding in a suicide is facially unconstitutional under the First Amendment.[25] In early 2011 the trial court judge entered an order denying the defendants' motion to dismiss the indictment. [26] The judge entered an order authorizing the defendants to appeal this decision.[27] On February 6, 2012, the Supreme Court of Georgia unanimously struck down Georgia's assisted suicide law, deemed the statute unconstitutional, and found it violated First Amendment free speech provisions.[28] The charges against Goodwin, Blehr, Egbert, and Sheridan were therefore dismissed.[29]

References[edit]

  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ [2]
  3. ^ "The Suicide Plan - PBS Frontline". Pbs.org. Retrieved 2013-01-16. 
  4. ^ Laura Adelmann, "Dakota County Grand Jury to consider assisted suicide charges," The Sun This Week newspaper, http://sunthisweek.com/2012/05/07/dakota-county-grand-jury-to-consider-assisted-suicide-charges-in-2007-death/
  5. ^ Pat Pheifer, "Final Exit case is headed back to trial court," Star-Tribune, June 26, 2014 ("Pheifer"). http://blogs.phoenixnewtimes.com/valleyfever/2010/05/final_exit_network_bigwig_plea.php
  6. ^ Id.
  7. ^ Id.
  8. ^ Id.
  9. ^ State v. Final Exit Network, Inc., Lawrence Deems Egbert, and Roberta L. Massey, Consolidated Cases No. A13–0563, A13–0564, A13–0565, Opinion of Sept. 30, 2013, available at 2013 Westlaw 5418170, 41 Media Law Reporter 2549 (the “Final Exit Network decision”)
  10. ^ Final Exit Network decision
  11. ^ Final Exit Network decision
  12. ^ Final Exit Network decision
  13. ^ Final Exit Network decision
  14. ^ Pheifer
  15. ^ Pheifer
  16. ^ Bethea, Charles, "Death's Escorts: The Final Exit Network, and what they leave behind," March 2010
  17. ^ http://blogs.phoenixnewtimes.com/valleyfever/2010/05/final_exit_network_bigwig_plea.php
  18. ^ http://blogs.phoenixnewtimes.com/valleyfever/2011/06/final_exit_network_defendant_p_1.php
  19. ^ http://blogs.phoenixnewtimes.com/valleyfever/2011/06/final_exit_network_defendant_p_1.php
  20. ^ http://blogs.phoenixnewtimes.com/valleyfever/2011/06/final_exit_network_defendant_p_1.php
  21. ^ Rhonda, Cook; Boone, Christian (February 26, 2009). "4 arrested in Ga. assisted suicide sting". The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. 
  22. ^ http://bioethics.net
  23. ^ http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/arrests-final-exit-network-members-assisted-suicide-ring-revives-right-to-die-debate-article-1.391791
  24. ^ Bluestein, Greg (April 1, 2010). "Members of group plead not guilty". Associated Press. Retrieved April 26, 2010. 
  25. ^ Jeffrey Scott, "Final Exit Network suicide acquittal resonates in Georgia case," Atlanta Constitution-Journal, April 2, 2011, http://www.ajc.com/news/news/local/final-exit-network-suicide-group-acquittal-resonat/nQsr3/
  26. ^ Final Exit Network, Inc., et al. v. State of Georgia, Case No. No. S11A1960, Unanimous Opinion of the Supreme Court of Georgia, Feb. 6, 2012, available at 290 Ga. 508, 722 S.E.2d 722, 12 FCDR 348
  27. ^ Id.
  28. ^ Kim Severson, "Georgia Court Rejects Law Aimed at Assisted Suicide," The New York Times, February 6, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/07/us/assisted-suicide-law-is-overturned-by-georgia-supreme-court.html?_r=0 Karmasek, Jessica M. (2012-02-13). "Ga. SC deems assisted suicide law unconstitutional". Retrieved 18 February 2012. ; see also Final Exit Network, Inc., et al. v. State of Georgia, Case No. No. S11A1960, Unanimous Opinion of the Supreme Court of Georgia, Feb. 6, 2012, available at 290 Ga. 508, 722 S.E.2d 722, 12 FCDR 348, and at http://www.gasupreme.us/sc-op/pdf/s11a1960.pdf. Streaming audio/video of Oral Argument in the Supreme Court of Georgia is available at http://multimedia.dailyreportonline.com/2011/11/final-exit-network-inc-et-al-v-the-state/
  29. ^ Rankin, Bill (February 6, 2012). "Court strikes down Georgia's assisted-suicide law". Cox Media Group. Retrieved 18 February 2012. 

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