County attorney: Interpretation of assisting suicide statute to be appealed to Minnesota Supreme Court

Court of Appeals says law is unconstitutional


Final Exit Network members who are accused of assisting in the 2007 suicide of an Apple Valley woman will face trial in Dakota County, but a state law regarding making it unlawful to advise or encourage someone to commit suicide may not be used against them.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals filed a decision, which affirmed the decision of the District Court, that found the Minnesota’s assisting suicide statute is unconstitutional, according to a release this afternoon from the Dakota County Attorney’s Office.

“We disagree with the Court of Appeals decision in this case and will be seeking further review of it by the Minnesota Supreme Court,” Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom said in a press release. “We believe the legal reasoning used by the Court of Appeals in this case conflicts with legal reasoning used by the Court of Appeals in a previous case involving a prosecution for assisted suicide.”

The previous case, State v. Melchert-Dinkel, is currently being reviewed by the Minnesota Supreme Court.

The three-judge appeals panel determined that Minnesota’s assisting suicide statute’s use of “advises” and “encourages” are “facially overbroad” and infringe upon speech that is considered protected under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The Court of Appeals determined that their remained sufficient evidence to establish a  reasonable probability that Final Exit Network and two of its members – Lawrence Egbert and Roberta Massey – physically assisted Doreen Dunn in committing suicide.

Final Exit Network, Egbert, Massey, Jerry Dincin, and Thomas Goodwin were originally indicted by a Dakota County grand jury in May 2012 on multiple counts of assisting suicide and interference with a death scene related to Dunn’s death on May 30, 2007.

The original autopsy had listed the cause of Dunn’s death as coronary artery disease.

The investigation into her death was reopened in 2010 when the Apple Valley Police Department received information from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation that in the months leading up to her death Dunn had become of member of Final Exit Network and had numerous communications related to her medical condition and taking of her life with multiple FEN representatives, including Massey and Dincin.

FEN is a Georgia nonprofit corporation that provides its members end-of-life counseling and “exit” services, which includes information and support for members seeking to hasten their death through suicide.

During its investigation, Apple Valley Police Department also discovered evidence indicating that Egbert, Final Exit medical director, and Dincin had traveled to the Dunn residence on the day of her death.

Dincin has since died and the charges against him were dismissed.

The trial court also dismissed charges against Goodwin for lack of sufficient evidence, which the state did not appeal.