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Pontifications

In Georgia, a sting operation snares members of the “Final Exit Network.” The Times has the story, and it doesn’t sound like euthanasia. On emotional issues like this, an over-the-top case can change the national discourse is this such a case. Read on…

ATLANTA — An undercover state investigator told a right-to-die network that he wanted to kill himself. In response, he later testified, officials of the network planned to have him asphyxiate himself with a helium-filled face mask while holding down his arms.

After an investigation, four officials of the group, known as the Final Exit Network, were arrested last month on charges of racketeering and assisted suicide.

The arrests raised questions about whether the group, which has helped some 200 people commit suicide since 2004, merely watched people take the leap into death, or pushed them over the edge.

The arrests followed an inquiry in which an investigator posed as a cancer patient and persuaded network members to help him prepare to commit suicide.

According to the agent’s affidavit, network members instructed him to buy a helium tank and a plastic “exit mask.”

Thomas E. Goodwin, who was the network president at the time, and Claire Blehr, a member, planned to hold down the agent’s hands while helium flowed into the mask, the affidavit says.

The agent would lose consciousness within seconds and die within minutes, and the guides would remove evidence from the scene.

“They went through a dry run just to let the agent know what would happen,” Mr. Bankhead said. “Mr. Goodwin got on top of the agent and held down both of his hands,” which investigators say would have prevented him from removing the mask if he had changed his mind during a real suicide.

The Final Exit Network has a statement up denying the charges:

Jerry Dincin, President of Final Exit Network, said, “We believe Ted Goodwin, Larry Egbert, Nick Sheridan and Claire Blehr are innocent and will be exonerated. Final Exit Network works within the laws by providing counseling and training and support.” The Exit Guide Program serves people who are suffering from an intolerable medical condition which has become more than they can bear.

“Final Exit Network does not ‘assist’ suicide in any way, nor do we encourage individuals to hasten their deaths,” Dincin adds. Members who avail themselves of the Exit Guide Program must be capable of performing every required function without assistance of any type. At any time during the process a member can change his or her mind.

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