Final Exit Network Activists Claim Georgia Assisted Suicide Law Invalid

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Dec 10, 2010   |   6:45PM   |   Atlanta, GA

Members of the Final Exit Network are charged with assisting the suicide of a Georgia person and their attorneys have raised in court the claim that the Georgia law banning assisted suicide is unconstitutional.

Superior Court Judge David L. Dickinson held a hearing in county court today on a motion to dismiss the charges with defense attorney Rob Rubin claiming the law is “totally incoherent.”

“It infringes on everybody’s right to free speech as it’s written,”  he claimed, according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution report. “It restricts the abilities of citizens to engage in discussion and have debate about end-of-life decisions.”

“We, as a nation, need to be able to engage in a free discussion of ideas,” Rubin said. “Georgia went off on its own and drafted its own statute. No other state has a law close to how Georgia did theirs.”

The Georgia law says anyone who “publicly advertises, offers, or holds himself or herself out as offering“ is guilty of assisting a suicide.

Rubin also alleges the FEN members did not actually help the suicide and should not be charged.

The newspaper indicates Forsyth County District Attorney Penny Penn said the law punishes actions, not speech, and said the Final Exit Network members held down the hands of the man they helped die.

“We’re not criminalizing speech,” Penn said. “None of the acts (listed in the indictment) are reflective of the defendant’s speech.”

The FBI has charged four people with violating assisted suicide bans in numerous states after a sting operation determined an assisted suicide ring killed one or more people. An undercover FBI agent posed as a member of the Final Exit euthanasia group that is apparently responsible for the deaths.

At least one 58-year-old man is known to have been helped to kill himself and other deaths may come up as the investigation continues.

The FBI is also probing Final Exit, the pro-euthanasia group that was apparently involved and whose volunteers in seven states and a group office in Georgia were raided. A company in Montana that made supplies used in the assisted suicides is also under investigation.

Thomas E. Goodwin, listed as the president of the euthanasia group, and Claire Blehr, a member, were both arrested in February 2009

Lawrence D. Egbert, 81, of Baltimore, listed as the group’s medical director, was arrested, as was Nicholas Alec Sheridan, a Baltimore man who is a regional coordinator for the group.

The charges are related to the June 2008 death of John Celmer, a Georgia resident who killed himself using an assisted suicide bag the Montana company manufactured.

Betty Celmer, the man’s mother, told news outlets that her son was depressed from having throat cancer.

The four members are charged with violating Georgia’s act against organized mob activity and the assisted suicide law.

Wesley J. Smith, an author and attorney who follows euthanasia issues, talked about the case.

“The Final Exit Network is dedicated to assisted suicide. More honestly than some in the euthanasia movement, its members openly acknowledge that the ‘ultimate civil liberty’ should not be limited to the terminally ill,” he said. “It has long been suspected that some members of the FEN are not willing to wait until the law changes to assist in suicides.”