May 14, 2015; Associated Press
A jury took only 90 minutes in deliberations to convict nonprofit right-to-die group Final Exit Network of assisting in the 2007 suicide of Doreen Dunn, a 57-year-old mother of two from Apple Valley, Minnesota, who had been living with chronic pain for nearly a decade prior to her death.
Final Exit Network is an informational and support group focused on helping those who are terminally ill or are suffering great pain end their lives. The group was first indicted for Dunn’s suicide back in 2012, with felony charges including assisting suicide and interfering with a death scene. They face a maximum penalty of $33,000.
In order to convict the group, the prosecution had to prove they “intentionally assisted and enabled Dunn in taking her life.” According to Minnesota statutes, that includes physical or verbal aid, such as giving someone instructions on how to commit suicide.
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“This is an organization,” said Dakota County prosecutor Phil Prokopowicz in his closing statement, “that directly connects to its members and provides them with the knowledge and means to take their own life. And in the state of Minnesota, that is where the line is crossed.”
The prosecution contended that Dunn did not know how to commit suicide until Final Exit Network gave her the tools and the knowledge to do so. As former president of the group Thomas Goodwin testified in court, the Network’s “exit guides” provide selected individuals with the helium equipment to commit suicide via asphyxiation and then remove the equipment from the area, reportedly in attempt to conceal the suicide. According to Goodwin, this is because some who come to Final Exit Network for help do not want their friends or family to remember them as having committed suicide.
“There was a desire for privacy and to go gently and to be remembered for who you were,” he said.
Indeed, while initially the medical examiner believed Dunn had died of natural causes, it was later discovered Dunn had asphyxiated herself with helium, the right-to-die group’s recommended method of suicide, according to prosecutors. Two members of the group—Jerry Dincin, now diseased, and Dr. Larry Egbert—were with Dunn that day before her suicide. Members of her family were apparently unaware of her correspondence with the group.
It’s uncertain how this decision might impact other cases against the Final Exit Network or whether prosecutors from other states might also file charges against the group. A case against the group’s members in Georgia was dropped after the Supreme Court ruled in 2012 the state’s assisted suicide law was unconstitutional. Egbert, who was involved in Dunn’s case, was acquitted of manslaughter in Arizona in 2011 while other members of the group pled guilty to lesser counts and received no jail time.
Goodwin acknowledged that while the group “[pushes] the envelope,” they are aware of state laws and are careful to stay within the legal parameters. Currently, assisted suicide is legal in only five states: Oregon, Washington, Montana, Vermont and New Mexico.—Shafaq Hasan