Right-to-die members in and out of Dakota County Jail
Next court appearance Oct. 15
A potentially precedent-setting assisted-suicide trial started Monday as three of four Final Exit Network members charged in the death of an Apple Valley woman were booked into
the Dakota County Jail, released and appeared in court.
Before Judge Karen Asphaug were Lawrence Egbert, 84, of Maryland; Roberta Massey, 66, Delaware, and Thomas “Ted” Goodwin, 65, of Florida.
Jerry Dincin, 81, of Illinois, is also facing charges, but was not able to attend because he is terminally ill, said Final Exit Network attorney Robert Rivas.
The members’ next court appearance is Oct. 15, and defense attorneys will meet in August to review the prosecution’s 40 banker boxes of evidence, Rivas said.
The Dakota County grand jury may have reviewed some of that evidence in May before it produced a 17-count indictment against Final Exit Network and the four members for assisting in a suicide and interference with a death scene in the 2007 suicide of Doreen Dunn, 57, of Apple Valley.
Dunn suffered years of debilitating pain before she joined Final Exit Network in January, 2007, and allegedly used information from the organization to end her life.
According to Final Exit Network, their volunteers provide information, and are with a person when they end their life, sometimes holding their hands during the “exit” and removing equipment after the person has died.
Rivas said Final Exit Network volunteers never physically assist in the process, a key point if the defense’s expected motion to dismiss is denied and the case does go through to trial.
Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom alleges Dincin and Egbert were present with Dunn when she died, and Rivas has told Sun Thisweek he assumes Final Exit Network members were present when Dunn died, but could not confirm it.
At the hearing, no bail was imposed and the defendants were all released on their own recognizance.
They must notify the court of any address changes, seek permission to leave the country, and attend all future court appearances.
Rivas said County Attorney Phil Prokopowicz asked the court demand Final Exit Network volunteers to stop participating in an assisted suicides in Minnesota as a condition of the pretrial release.
Rivas argued that Final Exit Network members do not participate in assisted suicides, and would never agree to that terminology.
Asphaug instead ordered the members remain law abiding, and Rivas agreed.
He later explained the Final Exit Network members would continue to provide information to people in Minnesota, as it is a First Amendment right.
At the hearing were several Final Exit Network volunteers who had traveled from across the country to show support for the members as they appeared in court.
Lee Vizer of Pennsylvania said she joined in the right-to-die movement to avoid the lingering pain her mother suffered for four years before her death about 15 years ago.
She suffered so severely from osteoporosis and muscle deterioration that a careful hug from Vizer’s son Barry Cohen resulted in three broken ribs.
“That was before she got worse,” Cohen of Tonka Bay told Sun Thisweek.
“My mom died a horrible, lingering death,” Vizer said. “She didn’t deserve it. Nobody does.”
Vizer said she believes a person should be able to end their life, calling it the “last human right.”
Backstrom has told Sun Thisweek although he has “great compassion” or those suffering, state law does not allow for assisted suicide.
Disability rights groups have also spoken out against the right-to-die movement, citing concerns about the potential for abuse.
Vizer said “slippery slope issues” raised before Oregon passed its 1998 “Death with Dignity Act” have not come to pass, proving it can work.
According to Backstrom, the Death with Dignity Act applies only to terminally ill patients with incurable and irreversible diseases that are medically confirmed to produce death within six months.
Dunn was not terminal, but a hand-written note signed by Dunn and faxed to Massey, stated she was “living with unbearable, excruciating, chronic pain” that spread throughout her body.
Vizer said in her mother’s case, doctors wouldn’t declare her mother terminal even when she had shrunk to just 50 pounds.
“She was forced to endure a living hell,” Vizer said.