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THE ASSOCIATED PRESS reported 27 Feb 09:

ATLANTA (AP) — Members of an assisted suicide ring say they’ve done nothing wrong and seem eager for a court battle over criminal charges they helped a Georgia man kill himself, while their supporters are using the case as a rallying cry for more debate about end-of-life issues.

Four members of the Final Exit Network were arrested Wednesday on charges they violated Georgia’s assisted suicide laws by helping 58-year-old John Celmer use helium and an exit bag — a plastic hood with tubing attached — to suffocate himself.

Network president Thomas E. Goodwin and member Claire Blehr, both arrested in metro Atlanta, were released from jail late Thursday. Goodwin’s attorney, Cynthia Counts, said she was confident her client ”will be vindicated.”

In Baltimore on Friday, Dr. Lawrence D. Egbert and Nicholas Alex Sheridan smiled and waved to supporters before asking a judge to release them on bond so they could travel to Georgia to face charges. The judge later agreed to release and their attorney said they were expected to travel to Georgia over the weekend.

”These are not people who are running from justice,” said Michael Kaminkow, an attorney for Egbert, the group’s medical director, and Sheridan. ”These are people who want justice.”

Celmer’s mother says he suffered for years from mouth and throat cancer, but Georgia authorities say he was cancer-free and simply embarrassed about how jaw surgeries had affected his appearance when the network helped him kill himself.
Network members bristle at the term assisted suicide, saying they don’t actively aid suicides but rather support and guide those, like Celmer, who decide to end their lives on their own.

”These people are suffering. And the suffering that they’re experiencing is their own personal experience,” said Jerry Dincin, a Chicago clinical psychologist who was named the group’s president after Goodwin’s arrest.

Dincin, who wasn’t arrested, said he never met Celmer. But he said Friday people who approach the group for help are asked repeatedly in the days leading up to the suicide — often more than 10 times — if they are sure they want to go through with the process.

”Who are we to judge? That’s his opinion. He was suffering to the point where he didn’t want to live anymore. He had every opportunity to say no, and he didn’t.”

The four also were charged with tampering with evidence and violating anti-racketeering laws.
Georgia authorities began investigating the group shortly after Celmer killed himself last June.

Georgia Bureau of Investigation spokesman John Bankhead says the organization may have been involved in as many as 200 other deaths around the country since it began in 2004.

State authorities have frozen the Georgia-based network’s bank accounts, and Dincin said it can’t pay its bills. ”We can’t even buy a stamp,” he said, though he wouldn’t say how much was in the accounts.
Voters in Oregon and Washington have legalized doctor-assisted suicide, and a district judge in Montana ruled in December that such suicides are legal there, though the state Supreme Court could overturn that decision.

Most other states call for prison time for those found guilty of assisting suicide. People convicted of assisting in suicide in Georgia can be sentenced to up to five years.

The GBI is now leading a wide-ranging investigation into the ring, which has led to raids in nine states. Authorities say they have searched 14 sites in Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio, Missouri, Colorado and Montana.

Some legal experts and advocates said they hope details about the network will help stoke a deeper discussion over assisted suicide.
Georgia prosecutors will seek to prove the four network members violated the state’s 1994 assisted suicide law, which defines assisted suicide as anyone publicly advertising or offering to ”intentionally and actively assist another person” in ending their life.

Dincin called the prosecution ”a travesty of American justice.” ”I’m so insulted. The GBI should be flushed down the toilet,” he said. ”They have judged us and ruined us before we have gone to court.”

Dincin said the group’s members didn’t actively assist the suicides but were there to walk members through a procedure outlined in the best-selling manual ‘‘Final Exit’‘ and hold their hands until their dying breaths.
”If this case goes to court, we’ll be dealing with the notion of what is assistance,”’ he said. ”If we point somebody to a book, maybe that’s considered assistance in the courts. But we don’t think so.”

Watch this blog for Defense Fund announcement.

6 Responses to “Assisted Suicide Ring Members Prep for Court Fight”

  1. bcr says:

    Unfortunately these individuals may be in a lot of trouble. I feel there should be public debate about the right to die but, until laws and society change, the actual acts should be kept discreet.

    Assisted suicide is widely practiced in just about every hospital in the world and I have been witness to more than a few in several parts of the world. An exaggerated dose of medication is usually administered without publicity and everyone involved….doctors, nurses and sometimes family…..simply do not speak of it. As a husband or wife with lovers on the side would say, “if no one knows then no one will mind or be hurt”.

    Discreet assistance would seem to be the best policy for the moment.

  2. tammy says:

    The detective in the sting operation reported that the exit guide said that the guide would hold his arms so that he would not be able to pull off the hood. If this it true, there is big trouble. Having read Final Exit, and much of the website, I remember reading about how the guide will “hold your hand” to comfort you. This has always seemed a little odd to me. I expect if I am faced with that end of life moment, I will see it as a solitary time and not need comfort from a person who is basically a stranger. But maybe I just have different feelings about death than many people. I wonder if prosecutors will latch onto that language in the context of taking an active role in the suicide? “Your website even says that the exit guide will hold your hands, doesn’t it…”

    I am curious what evidence they will produce. Did they record the sting encounter? If not, why not?

  3. ergo says:

    As he came out of prison on bail, Ted Goodwin denied that he held any person down, and certainly not the sting policeman. The woman who was with Ted says that in the case of the man whom they are accused of helping, both and Ted each held a hand to comfort the dying man. Not unusual! The helium hood method is so fast that holding down would not be necessary — coma in 3-4 seconds, death in 3-4 minutes. See ‘Final Exit’.

  4. tammy says:

    I heard the report on NPR today. It quoted the detective in the sting saying the exit guide climbed on top of him on the bed to hold him down so he wouldn’t take the hood off. This during an initial consult? This sounds so bizarre. Why was there no surveillance audio or video of this encounter? Bad thing is it will come down to the word of the detective vs. that of the exit guide.

    Sometimes police and prosecutors “know” someone is guilty but they can’t prove it. They really need to get that “bad” person off the street or make sure they are punished. So they take action to get the person arrested and charged and sometimes convicted. Evidence is planted, events are fabricated. It happens.

    I wish luck to my fellow Final Exit members in this court fight and hope that it goes well and does spark a good debate on this important topic.

  5. ergo says:

    Ted Goodwin, the accused person in the Georgia Four case, has denied publicly that he climbed, or ever climbs on top of a person who wish to die via the helium method.
    Ted and Claire say they each held a hand of the dying man — as is quite common in all instances of dying.
    I know that climbing on top of the person is NOT taught or advised at Final Exit Network training sessions because I’ve attended some. Nor is it necessary because coma comes in 3-4 seconds and death in 3-5 minutes.
    The police are exaggerating their evidence the better to achieve a conviction. Not unusual.
    —————Derek Humphry

  6. ergo says:

    Ted Goodwin, one of the accused, categoricaly denies that he ever holds anybody down during a helium hood death.
    I have been an observer at three Final Exit Network training sessions and never heard nor saw any reference to holding people down. No doubt some people want their hands held as a gesture of love and comfort at this extremely difficult time. I was sat on the end of the bed when a dear friend of mine ended her life with the helium method, and she didn’t ask for her hands to be held, she switched the tank on, there were no convulsions, and she was peacefully gone. — Derek Humphry. Help the defense of the Georgia Four: http://www.finalexitlibertyfund.org

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