HASTINGS, Minn. (AP/WCCO) — A Minnesota grand jury has indicted a national right-to-die group and several members for their actions in the 2007 suicide of a Apple Valley woman.
The 17-count indictment unsealed Monday charges the medical director of Final Exit Network, Lawrence Egbert of Baltimore, along with officials Jerry Dincin of Illinois, Roberta Massey of Delaware, and Thomas Goodwin of Florida with felony counts of assisting suicide and interference with a death scene – a gross misdemeanor. It also charged the Georgia-based group in its corporate capacity.
Dakota County prosecutor James Backstrom said the investigation is an effort to bring to justice a group that helped Doreen Dunn take her own life in May of 2007.
Dunn, 57, had endured through intense, chronic pain and depression after suffering complications from a medical procedure in 1996.
On May 30, 2007, Dunn’s husband found her deceased on their living room couch.
The Dakota County Medical Examiner’s office determined Dunn’s cause of death was from “arteriosclerotic coronary artery disease.” Her death was ruled as “natural.”
In the fall of 2009, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension was contacted by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, who revealed that Dunn may have committed suicide with the guidance of Final Exit Network.
The GBI had executed several search warrants on people associated with Final Exit Network during an investigation of a Georgia death. After a preliminary investigation, the case was assumed by the Apple Valley Police Department.
Final Exit Network only considers candidates who are suffering from irreversible medical conditions that are either likely to be fatal, or greatly hampers their quality of life.
To become a Final Exit Network member a $50 fee is required.
In addition, the interested parties must submit a written statement explaining the reasons behind the decision to end their life, as well as a doctor’s note explaining their medical condition.
If the person is accepted as a member of Final Exit Network, they are assigned a “Senior Exit Guide” who schedules a personal visit to review the member’s reasons for suicide and their plan to accomplish that goal.
In its materials, Final Exit informs members that helium asphyxiation is the preferred method for suicide.
According to the Dakota County Medical Examiner, death from helium asphyxiation cannot be detected in autopsies.
The Exit Guides are present on the date of the suicide, and will hold the member’s hand “for comfort” upon request.
Once the member has died, the Exit Guide gathers all the evidence, unless previously instructed by the member. The evidence includes any materials referencing the Network. These materials are then disposed of by the Exit Guide some distance away from the location of the suicide.
Apple Valley Police Department preformed searches on phone, airline and car rental records, which all indicated that Lawrence Egbert and Jerry Dincin were present at Dunn’s death.
Minnesota law prohibits anyone from aiding another person in committing suicide. Although Final Exit Network claims laws of this nature as unconstitutional, laws enacted by the Minnesota Legislature are presumed to be constitutional until a state appellate court rules differently.
In his public comments, Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom clarified that this investigation and prosecution was not an attack on the right-to-die movement.
“It is an effort to bring justice to a corporation and several of its officers and volunteers who are alleging advised, encouraged or assisted Doreen Dunn in taking her life on May 30, 2007 in violation of Minnesota law,” wrote Backstrom.
He adds that unlike Minnesota, Oregon has the “Death With Dignity Act”, which was enacted in 1998.
“Until such time as the Minnesota Legislature enacts a law permitting and defining when and how assisting in a suicide may lawfully occur, I believe that it is my duty and responsibility to enforce our existing laws by bringing to justice those responsible for advising, encouraging or assisting individuals in taking their own lives prematurely and covering up the true nature of what has occurred by removing evidence from the scenes of such deaths,” wrote Backstrom.
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