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Minn. Court of Appeals: Law against 'advising' suicides is unconstitutional

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The Minnesota Court of Appeals says the state law against "advising" suicides is an overly broad restriction on free speech, the Associated Press reports.

The three-judge panel affirmed Dakota County Judge Karen Asphaug's March ruling that the language of the Minnesota statute is unconstitutional. Dakota County prosecutors had appealed her declaration.

The ruling stems from a case where 57-year-old Doreen Dunn of Apple Valley sought out Final Exit Network, Inc., a national right-to-die group, to consult the organization on taking her own life.

Dunn, who suffered from chronic illness for more than a decade, was found dead by her husband at their home on May 30, 2007. Initial autopsy results determined Dunn had died from natural causes.

It wasn't until about two years later that the Dakota County Attorney's Office learned that Final Exit had assisted Dunn in a suicide.

Dunn had allegedly placed a device called a "helium hood" -- a plastic bag attached to a helium tank -- over her head to end her life.

The Georgia-based nonprofit provides counseling and other services to people suffering from irreversible medical conditions who are considering ending their lives.

"We are very careful not to encourage anybody to end their life," Frank Kavanaugh, Final Exit board member, told KSTP in a May report. "We never provide the means for them to do so and we don't physically assist in any way. All we do is provide information, and we think in doing that we are protected by our First Amendment right of free speech."

According to the Dakota County Attorney's Office, "Exit Guides" from the organization are typically present at the time of a suicide and leave after it's complete, taking with them all the evidence that a suicide has occurred.

A grand jury indicted Final Exit and four of its members, including two who were allegedly present at the time of the suicide, on charges of assisting another to commit suicide and interference with a death scene.

Asphaug previously dismissed a felony charge against the founder of Final Exit and former president Ted Goodwin.

The Associated Press says the appellate court's decision sends the case back to Dakota County District Court for further proceedings against the group and its accused members.

Dakota County Attorney Jim Backstrom says he plans to ask the Minnesota Supreme Court to review the state Court of Appeals ruling.

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