US judge dismisses charges against right-to-die leader

AP, HASTINGS, Minnesota

Sun, Mar 24, 2013 - Page 7

A judge dismissed charges against the former leader of a US right-to-die group accused in the death of a Minnesota woman, ruling that the state law against advising suicide is unconstitutionally overboard.

The judge dismissed charges against Thomas Goodwin, former president of Final Exit Network. The group argued the law violates the right to freedom of speech.

Last year, four members of the group were charged in the 2007 death of Doreen Dunn, who killed herself in her home. Prosecutors said the defendants provided Dunn with information and support.

Dunn had suffered through a decade of intense, chronic pain after a medical procedure went wrong.

Final Exit Network is run by volunteers who believe that mentally competent adults have a basic human right to end their lives if they suffer from “fatal or irreversible illness or intractable pain” and meet other criteria, according to the group’s Web site.

“We do not encourage anyone to end their life,” the Web site says.

Goodwin was charged with aiding and abetting assistance of a suicide, a felony, and aiding and abetting in the interference with a death scene, a gross misdemeanor.

Final Exit members say the giving of information and emotional support could be interpreted as “encouraging” under a Minnesota law that makes it a felony for someone to intentionally assist, advise or encourage suicide.

In court documents, Final Exit Network general counsel Robert Rivas wrote that while the state may bar someone from “assisting” a suicide, it is unconstitutional for the state to ban “advising” or “encouraging” a suicide — pure speech.