Right-to-die group convicted of assisting suicide of Minnesota woman

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A national right-to-die group was convicted Thursday of assisting in the 2007 suicide of an Apple Valley woman.

A jury found the Final Exit Network, Inc. – a Georgia-based nonprofit that provides members with end-of-life counseling and “exit guide” services, including information and support for members who seek to end their life – guilty of assisting in the suicide of 57-year-old Doreen Dunn, and of a lesser charge of interfering with a death scene, The Associated Press reports.

The jury deliberated for about 90 minutes, the Star Tribune says. It's the first time the Final Exit Network has been convicted of a criminal charge of assisting suicide.

Sentencing in the case has been scheduled for Aug. 24. at 9 a.m., reports note.

Throughout the trial, which began Monday, prosecutors worked to prove that the Final Exit Network intentionally and directly assisted – either physically or with instructional speech – in Dunn’s suicide.

Prosecutors argued Dunn didn't know how to take her own life until members of the organization gave her a "blueprint" on how to do it, the AP notes.

The defense argued there wasn't evidence to prove the group did anything illegal, noting the Final Exit Network is careful to stay within constitutionally protected speech, adding the "exit guides" are there as a compassionate friend so the person doesn't have to die alone, a release on the Final Exit Network's website says.

The case

Dunn’s 2007 death was ruled natural until an investigation in Georgia uncovered Dunn had reached out to the Final Exit Network earlier that year, the Dakota County Attorney’s Office news release said.

She had suffered from intense pain for a decade following a botched medical procedure before deciding to end her life, the release noted. The investigation found two “exit guides” from the network had traveled to Dunn’s home the day of her death.

The investigation resulted in the organization and four of its members being indicted in 2012. However, over the years the cases against the four individuals have either been dismissed or delayed.

According to a news release on the Final Exit Network’s website, prosecutors granted Lawrence Egbert, an 87-year-old physician who served as the organization’s medical director, immunity from prosecution last week, and subpoenaed him to testify against the organization at trial.

Ted Goodwin, 68, a former president of the organization, was also granted immunity.

Charges against Jerry Dincin, 83, who was with Dunn on the day she died, were dropped after he died, and the case against Roberta Massey, 69, has been suspended because of her poor health, the Star Tribune reported.

What it means for other states

Thursday's decision doesn't affect the Final Exit Network's actions in other states, but the outcome of the case could influence officials elsewhere to pursue charges against the organization, the AP says.

Currently, five states allow people to seek aid in dying, while a handful of other states – including Minnesota – are considering such laws, the Death with Dignity National Center says.

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Related

Grand jury indicts right-to-die group over 2007 Apple Valley suicide

The indictment unsealed Monday contains 17 charges against the New Jersey-based Final Exit Network and its members. Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom says leaders of the group were at the Apple Valley home of Doreen Dunn when she used helium and a plastic bag to kill herself.