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Suicide advocacy group faces conviction amidst rash of state bills to legalize assisting suicide

by | May 22, 2015

By Jennifer Popik, Legislative Counsel, National Right to Life’s Powell Center for Medical Ethics

Barbara Coombs Lee

Barbara Coombs Lee

The suicide advocacy group, Final Exit Network, was recently found guilty of violating Minnesota’s law against assisting suicide. The group has long been known to take brazen actions across the country promoting suicide, by promoting how-to guides for home suicides and sending “caring friends” to those who say they want to take their lives.

According to Reuter’s David Bailey in his May 14, 2015, article, “Minnesota jury convicts Final Exit group of assisting 2007 suicide”

A jury on Thursday found the national right-to-die group Final Exit Network guilty of assisting a Minnesota woman’s suicide in 2007 and interfering with a death scene, prosecutors said. Sentencing has been scheduled for August in the case stemming from the suicide of Doreen Dunn, 57, who authorities said died by helium asphyxiation with two Final Exit group members present in her home.

The deceased woman, Doreen Dunn, said she experienced chronic pain stemming from a heart procedure ten years before her death.

The disturbing self-proclaimed aim of the Final Exit Network is to “offer free service to all who qualify, providing relevant information, home visits if possible and a compassionate presence for individual and family.” Under its sweeping definition of “those who qualify,” the organization has essentially no limits on whom it will advise or encourage to commit suicide.

Its parent organization, The Hemlock Society, after a series of changes from 1980 until 2003, split into two separate organizations: Final Exit Network and Compassion and Choices. According to Final Exit Network’s website, the two groups “essentially share the same belief in death with dignity, but each of these two organizations has a different focus. Compassion and Choices focuses on legislative change. Final Exit Network, however, has taken a very different approach…”

The so-called legislative portion of the euthanasia movement, Compassion and Choices (C&C), is hard at work across the country, having secured introduction of doctor prescribed suicide bills in more than half of U.S. states. While Final Exit Network is correct to say it takes a different approach — actively publishing graphic suicide “how-to” guides, and frequently providing in-person support to suicidal members–the end goals of the two organization are eerily similar: suicide on demand as an answer to any or all suffering.

As a first step, C&C is presently promoting legislation that purports to allow doctor-prescribed suicide for competent terminally ill patients, so long as some illusory “safeguards” are followed.

Evidence that safeguards are not working is available from both Oregon and Washington. There are state-issued reports that provide evidence of non-terminally ill persons receiving lethal prescriptions. (Assisting suicide is legal in Oregon, Washington, and Vermont. Montana courts have found no public policy against the practice, and court action is pending in New Mexico.)

Further, there is nothing in existing Oregon, Washington, or Vermont law that requires doctors to refer patients for evaluation by a psychologist or psychiatrist to screen for depression or mental illness. There is also no such requirement in any current proposal to legalize assisting suicide in any state.

The death-prescribing doctors can make a psychiatric referral, but nearly never do. In fact, according to Oregon’s official state reports, in 17 years of legalized doctor-prescribed suicide, a mere 5.5% of death candidates have been referred for psychological evaluation.

In short, there is evidence that any so-called “safeguards” simply are not working. What is more shocking is that this is exactly what C&C President Barbara Coombs Lee wants.

She would prefer to expand the list of those who can receive lethal drugs to any kind of discomfort a person might believe she or he is suffering from. In the USA Today article, “Half of U.S. states consider right-to-die legislation,” Coombs Lee told reporter Malak Monir, “It’s not as simple as pain. Everyone gets to identify their own definition of suffering.” [Emphasis added]

In another telling remark, Coombs Lee congratulated our close neighbors in Canada on that nation’s astounding Supreme Court decision that allows euthanasia for virtually any reason, and possibly for people whose wishes are unknown. In a press release she wrote, “We are heartened, as availability of aid in dying in Canada will have an impact here, especially in border states like New York and Maine.”

Be on the lookout for these dangerous proposals in your state. These laws will not alleviate pain. In fact pain is not even a top five reason people seek lethal prescriptions (“losing autonomy” and “becoming a burden” are the top 2).

These death-inducing drugs will be given to non-terminally ill people. Profit-driven insurers and cash-strapped state health care plans have encouraged the use of these inexpensive suicide drugs.

It is time to contact your legislators, particularly in California, Massachusetts, Maine, and New Jersey and tell them that these laws are too dangerous!

Categories: Assisted Suicide