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Lawyers for the Final Exit Network argued before the state Supreme Court
on Monday that Georgia’s assisted suicide law is “irrational” because it
allows someone to assist in a suicide but not to publicly advertise or
offer that help, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

But Bell-Forsyth Judicial Circuit District Attorney Penny Penn argued
that the law was created in 1994 to target “public actors” such as Dr.
Jack Kevorkian, who died in June after overseeing the suicides of more
than 100 people, or the Final Exit Network, a volunteer organization
that helps guide people “who are suffering from intolerable medical
circumstances and want to end their lives.”

Penn said the law was not set up to punish close friends, family members
or clergy who help someone hasten their death.

Four members of the Final Exit Network are accused of helping a
58-year-old Forsyth County man commit suicide after he was diagnosed with cancer. The court has two terms, or about six months, from the time the case is docketed to issue a ruling. That ruling will determine if
the defendants stand trial or the case gets dismissed.

Ted Goodwin, Final Exit’s former president; anesthesiologist Lawrence
Egbert, who co-founded the group; regional coordinator Nichols Alec
Sheridan; and group member Clair Blehr are charged with violating the
assisted suicide law, racketeering and tampering with evidence.

Prosecutors say John Celmer sought their guidance in using an “exit
hood” to commit suicide by asphyxiating on helium gas on June 19, 2008.

Defense attorney Richard Rivas, arguing for all the Final Exit Network
defendants, said Goodwin and Blehr were present for support when Celmer
committed suicide but did not help him do it. They later disposed of the
helium tanks and exit hood.

Rivas said he knew of no other law that allows an activity (in this
case, assisted suicide) but prohibits individuals from engaging in public speech about it. He argued that Georgia’s assisted suicide law is unconstitutional because it violates the right to free speech.

Penn argued that the state has an interest in protecting vulnerable
people who are contemplating suicide from public actors such as the
Final Exit Network.

But if the state wants to prevent assisted suicides, it should outlaw
them entirely, Rivas countered.

Egbert, who lives in Baltimore and teaches at Johns Hopkins University,
said after the hearing that he has assisted in more than 100 suicides
through his work with the Final Exit Network and, before that, a similar
organization called the Hemlock Society. He believes it is a doctor’s
duty to help when a patient says life is no longer bearable.

He never met Celmer, but evaluated his medical records and paperwork. He
determined Celmer was psychologically sound when he made the decision to
end his life.

He said Celmer was a good candidate because he “had a terrible disease,
suffered miserably and he wanted it.”

Celmer had cancer, but his doctor had told him he was in remission,
according to Penn.

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