The Final Exit Network’s Shadowy World of Assisted Suicide and Death

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Mar 13, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

The Final Exit Network’s Shadowy World of Assisted Suicide and Death

by Dave Andrusko
March 13, 2009 Note: Dave Andrusko is the editor of National Right to Life News and an author and editor of several books on abortion topics. He writes Today’s News and Views — an online editorial column on pro-life issues.

Two weeks ago I wrote about "Alleged Assisted Suicide Ring Busted." If you’re interested you can find out what my take is on the Final Exit Network.

The New York Times picked up the story thread yesterday.

The assisted suicide lobby has no more faithful friend, no more aggressive advocate or vociferous cheerleader than the Times.

We’ve long since come to expect that the publication whose motto is "all the news that’s fit to print" would only print news about assisted suicide that says it "honors" patients’ wishes and avoids having it done "underground or covertly, with hushed tones," as Barbara Coombs Lee, the president of pro-euthanasia Compassion and Choices, told the Times yesterday.

Robbie Brown’s "Arrests of Right-to-Die Officials Focus New Attention on Assisted Suicide" is far more balanced than the usual legalize-this-now-or-you-are-an-uncaring-cad malarkey we are accustomed to reading in the Times.

Having read the 1,104-word-long piece you’d know, for example, that "Officials with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation [GBI) say the network, which says it has 3,000 dues-paying members in the United States, actively takes part in suicides, an act that is illegal in every state except Oregon and Washington."

And that ”The law is clear, and they clearly violated it,” said John Bankhead, a spokesman for the GBI. And that, according to the group’s literature, "members receive services including ‘counseling, support and even guidance’ on suicide, in exchange for an annual $50 fee."

Ever more significantly the story lets the reader know early on, "The arrests raised questions about whether the group, which has helped some 200 people commit suicide since 2004, merely watched people take the leap into death, or pushed them over the edge."

As you know from our account and the Times story yesterday, an investigator with the GBI posed as a cancer patient. The Network agreed to help him commit suicide and actually went through a dry run.

”’Mr. [Thomas E.] Goodwin [president of the group] got on top of the agent and held down both of his hands,’ Bankhead told the Times, "which investigators say would have prevented him from removing the mask if he had changed his mind during a real suicide."

The eight-month-long investigation began when the family of a Georgia man, John Celmer, who committed suicide in June, got suspicious. Celmer’s wife, Susan, found one of the letters he had sent to the Final Exit Network "as well as release forms he had signed for the group," the Los Angeles Times reported.

Eventually, four members were arrested, included Goodwin, and medical director, Dr. Lawrence D. Egbert. They were charged with assisted suicide, tampering with evidence, and violation of the Georgia RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) Act.

The group is arguing their actions were above board. ”Assisted suicide is Jack Kevorkian putting a needle in someone with a deadly substance,” Jerry Dincin (who became the network president after the arrests) told the Times. ”We provide information that we think is protected under the First Amendment.”

As for Goodwin’s actions, Humphry said members (called "exit guides") do often hold the person’s hands "but for support, not restraint."

How do they die? By asphyxiation. A hood (the "exit bag") is placed over their heads and helium is pumped in until the patient loses consciousness. Death can take 10 or 20 minutes longer.

So, how "discriminating" was the Final Exit Network when approached by people asking to be assisted to die? "Of the 200 applications for death, Dr. Lawrence Egbert approved them all," the Atlantic Journal-Constitution reported over the weekend.

Stephen Drake of the group Not Dead Yet, cut to the chase. "It’s like approaching somebody who is on the ledge of a building and giving them a shove instead of pulling them back."

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