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Final Exit Network, Inc. is a nonprofit organization founded in 2004 for the purpose of serving as a resource to individuals seeking information and emotional support in committing suicide as a means to end suffering from chronically painful—though not necessarily terminal—illness.
Final Exit Network’s founder and former president, Thomas Goodwin, testifying in a criminal trial against the organization in 2015, stated that "Exit Guides" instruct individuals in how to obtain equipment for committing suicide and show them how to use it, but do not physically assist in suicides—being careful to act within the law.
After unsuccessful efforts by the states of Arizona and Georgia to prosecute Final Exit Network, Inc. and/or its members in 2011 and 2012, the state of Minnesota succeeded in 2015 in obtaining the first felony conviction against the organization for assisting a suicide, that of Doreen Dunn.
Final Exit Network, Inc. is a national, nonprofit, 501 (c)(3) tax-exempt corporation and a member of the World Federation of Right-to-Die Societies.
Doreen Dunn case
On May 30, 2007, Doreen Dunn’s husband came home to find her dead on the couch. An autopsy concluded that Dunn died of coronary artery disease and noted that she had suffered from chronic pain, but did not list her death as a suicide.
In 2009, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation indicted four Final Exit Network members in connection with a sting operation. Years later, the Georgia authorities contacted Minnesota authorities to share evidence that Dunn had applied for Final Exit Network services.
Following the investigation, a 17-count indictment charged Lawrence Deems Egbert (then-Final Exit Network’s medical director), Roberta Massey (then a case coordinator), Thomas E. ("Ted") Goodwin (a former president of Final Exit Network), and Jerry Dincin (Goodwin's successor as president) with felony counts of assisting in a suicide, a felony, and interfering with a death scene, a "gross misdemeanor." It also charged the corporation Final Exit Network, Inc. The trial court dismissed charges against Ted Goodwin in 2013, at the start of the case; and charges against Jerry Dincin were dismissed when he died in 2013. On the eve of trial in 2015, the state filed a motion to sever Egbert's trial from that of Final Exit Network, Inc.; obtained a court order requiring him to testify at Final Exit Network's trial; and imposed immunity on him over his objection.
In 2015, Egbert testified, he and Dincin had gone to Dunn's home to be present with her as she terminated her life via asphyxiation by inhaling helium, and then removed the asphyxiation equipment in order to make it appear as if she had died of natural causes. Although Final Network’s defense attorney, Robert Rivas, acknowledged that Dincin and Egbert sat with Dunn as she died, he stated that the state had no proof that the men assisted in her death. At the trial, no evidence was presented that they provided any tangible form of assistance in her death.
Although there was a Minnesota statute in effect at the time of Dunn’s death which prohibited “advising, encouraging, or assisting” in a "suicide," the Minnesota Court of Appeals found the statute to be unconstitutional—in part for violating the defendants' First Amendment-protected right to freedom of speech. The Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled that the statute's prohibitions against advising and encouraging a suicide had to be stricken, but it allowed the state to prosecute Final Exit Network for assisting in a suicide. In an unrelated case before the trial, the Supreme Court of Minnesota ruled that "speech" can constitute "assisting" suicide if the message gives specific instructions on how to carry it out.
On May 14, 2015, a jury convicted Final Exit Network Inc. of assisting Dunn’s suicide and interfering with the death scene—resulting in Final Exit Network’s first felony conviction for assisting a suicide. The organization was fined $30,000 on the charge of "assisting" in a suicide, and required to pay $3,000 in restitution to Dunn's family for funeral expenses.
Jana Van Voorhis case
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 after she lied to them about suffering from cancer. 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.
Two of the defendants, Wye Hale-Rowe and Roberta Massey, both elderly and in poor health, each pleaded guilty to one minor charge (not a felony, and not "assisting" in a "suicide") in plea bargains that ensured they would not run any risk of being sentenced to a prison term. 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.
The jury was unable to reach a verdict 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 misdemeanor and was sentenced to one year on probation, following which his record would be expunged.
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.
John Celmer case
On February 25, 2009, four members of the Final Exit Network were arrested on charges of assisting the suicide of a cancer patient, John Celmer, of Cumming, Georgia. Those arrested were Ted Goodwin, Claire Blehr, Dr. Lawrence Egbert, and Nicholas Alec Sheridan. They and the organization were also indicted on a charge of racketeering. On April 1, 2010, the five defendants pleaded not guilty.
The defendants moved to dismiss the indictment on grounds that the Georgia statute on aiding in a suicide was facially unconstitutional under the First Amendment. In early 2011, the trial court judge entered an order denying the defendants' motion to dismiss the indictment. The judge entered an order authorizing the defendants to appeal this decision before trial and suspending the prosecution until the appeals court's ruling.
On February 6, 2012, the Supreme Court of Georgia unanimously found the Georgia statute against assisting in a suicide unconstitutional in violation of First Amendment free speech provisions, and struck down the statute in its entirety. All the charges against Goodwin, Blehr, Egbert, and Sheridan were therefore dismissed.