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Group Probed for Helping People Die Defends Work

Atlanta – As authorities try to determine how many deaths nationwide may be linked to an alleged assisted suicide ring, members of the group known as the Final Exit Network are defending a mission they call “self-deliverance.”
The network’s president, its medical director and two other members were charged Wednesday in the death of John Celmer, a 58-year-old Georgia man who suffered for years from cancer of the throat and mouth. They each face up to five years in prison if convicted on assisted suicide charges.
Members bristle at the term assisted suicide, saying they don’t play an active role in a person’s death, but rather support and guide those who decide to end their lives on their own. Authorities say new members pay a $50 fee and are vetted through an application process.
Those seeking to end their lives are assigned a guide who instructs them to purchase two new helium tanks and a hood, known as an “exit bag.” Authorities say it’s consistent with the way Celmer died – suffocation due to inhalation.
When the member is ready, authorities said, he or she is visited by the exit guide and a senior exit guide to lead them through the process.
“We’re just there to help,” said Jerry Dincin, vice president of the 3,000-member Final Exit Network, who was not among those arrested. “People insist upon it. They want to do what they want to do. They’re suffering, and if they have intolerable pain, then they want to sometimes get out of that intolerable pain.”
Celmer’s mother, Betty, said he had undergone extensive surgery and had several more rounds to go. She contends group members shouldn’t face charges if they helped her son.
“If they helped John to die, that is what he wanted,” she said. “I would never find them guilty for helping him.”
A search warrant filed in DeKalb County said that agents interviewing Celmer’s doctor were told he was cancer free at the time of his death and that he was making a “remarkable recovery.”
Agents were told he was still in pain due to arthritis, but it could have been lessened if he took his medication properly and stopped drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes, according to the warrant.
The network is at the center of a wide-ranging investigation that led to raids in nine states this week.
It wasn’t immediately clear how many other deaths are being investigated. Authorities in Arizona said they were looking into whether the group helped a Phoenix woman die in April 2007.
Authorities there and in Georgia said search warrants were executed at 14 sites in Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio, Missouri, Colorado, and Montana.
Group members Thomas E. Goodwin, identified as the organization’s president, and Claire Blehr were arrested Wednesday at a home in northern Georgia in connection with Celmer’s death in Cumming, about 35 miles north of Atlanta, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation said. The arrests came after a sting operation in which an undercover agent posed as a member of the group.
The pair were scheduled to make a first court appearance Friday. Maryland authorities arrested the organization’s medical director, Dr. Lawrence D. Egbert, 81, of Baltimore, and Nicholas Alec Sheridan, a Baltimore man who is a regional coordinator for the group. They were scheduled for an extradition hearing Friday.
In addition to assisted suicide, the four were charged with tampering with evidence and a violation of Georgia’s anti-racketeering act.
In an interview, Dincin called the arrests “ridiculous” but acknowledged he could be next. He said network members are encouraged to order “The Final Exit,” a best-selling book that outlines how they can end their lives through “self-deliverance,” described as the practice of taking one’s own life to escape suffering.
“This method does not involve any other person directly, although a loved one or friend should ideally be present,” an excerpt read. “It is legal in all respects, and widely accepted ethically.”
But Georgia authorities say the group violated Georgia law, which defines assisted suicide as anyone publicly advertising or offering to “intentionally and actively assist another person.”
Dincin said his group will fight the charges in court.
“We just hold their hand,” he said. “We’re there for them for support – they read the information, they purchase the materials if that’s what they want to do.”
Associated Press
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

  • pagansister

    If the group does nothing more than hold their hand while the client indeed does everything else…then who has committed a crime? If the group truely checks to see if the client is actually ill with a terminal disease and wants to end their own life, they should be allowed to do so. However I’m sure all states have their laws regarding assisted suicide…and the group should check those out very carefully.

  • nnmns

    With all the real crimes I wish they would not waste time or money on these folks who, it seems, are just trying to help. Unless I learn something bad about them I’ll be hoping they get off scott free.

  • jestrfyl

    We do nothing to help people quit their fatal vices. Yet, we get all upset when the hasten the end that had begun years, even decades earlier. There is a problem with consistency here. I have not been asked by anyone about hastening the end of someone’s life. But in some cases I would be hard pressed to argue against it. This is not to say I am in complete agreement with this procedure or even the basic concept. But sometimes there are only bad choices and worse choices. My heart breaks for everyone who has to face a decision like this, either the patient or their family and friends.

  • pagansister

    For sure this kind of decision should never be taken lightly either by the person who is ill or family/friends who might be asked to assist or hold a hand. However a person in a horrible situation due to illness, should have the right to end their life if they choose. The quality of life becomes the issure.

  • Henrietta22

    I’ve watched many people pass on in my lifetime, and they passed with all kinds of diseases, accidents, and pain. Not one of them took themselves out of life by their own hand. I’ve seen two relatives who committed suicide; one by manic-depression and one by effects of an RX gone wrong. Like Clemer who was supposed to be cancer-free at the time he killed himself, he and others would probably do well to be treated for psychological problems first before denying their life, and giving it up.

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