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Assisted suicide advocates arrested in Dawson County

GBI: 2 gave instructions to undercover agent on how to 'self-deliver'

POSTED: February 26, 2009 12:25 a.m.
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Thomas E. "Ted" Goodwin

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Members of a group that supports assisted suicide told a Dawson County man they would help him kill himself, authorities said.

During earlier visits to his home, members of the Final Exit Network instructed the man to buy two tanks of helium and a hood they called an "exit bag," and on Wednesday, an "exit guide" arrived to help lead the man through his final steps, authorities said.

Instead, 76-year-old Claire Blehr and 63-year-old Final Exit Network President Thomas E. "Ted" Goodwin were arrested, charged with violating Georgia’s law against assisted suicide and another law typically used in prosecuting organized crime. The man Blehr and Goodwin thought they were helping to commit suicide was an undercover Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent.

Blehr, Goodwin and two others are suspects in the assisted suicide of a 58-year-old Cumming man who died from helium inhalation in June, GBI spokesman John Bankhead said. The man’s name has not been released.

After the Cumming Police Department and Forsyth County coroner requested the GBI’s assistance, the investigation focused on the Final Exit Network, a 4-year-old Marietta-based organization that promotes helping the terminally ill "self-deliver," according to its Web site.

Final Exit Network, according to the Web site, "is an all-volunteer organization dedicated to serving people who are suffering from an intolerable condition. Network volunteers offer you counseling, support, and even guidance to self-deliverance at a time and place of your choosing, but you always do the choosing. We will never encourage you to hasten your death."

The investigation has grown to involve 11 law enforcement agencies in eight states.

Search warrants and interviews have been carried out in Georgia, Florida, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio, Missouri, Colorado and Montana, Bankhead said.

In Baltimore, Dr. Lawrence D. Egbert, 81, was arrested by Maryland authorities in connection with the case. Egbert is listed as "medical director" on the group’s Web site. Nicholas Alec Sheridan, 60, also of Baltimore, has been charged but had not been arrested as of late Wednesday.

Georgia’s assisted suicide law makes it a felony to "publicly advertise, offer, or hold himself or herself out as offering that he or she will intentionally and actively assist another person in the commission of suicide and commits an overt act to further that purpose."

The crime is punishable by up to five years in prison.

The Final Exit Network members also are charged with violating Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.

Bankhead said GBI agents are in seven states working on the investigation, and said more arrests are possible.

Michigan’s Jack Kevorkian is the best-known person prosecuted in connection with assisted suicide. He was charged with murder in 1998 and convicted of second-degree murder, serving eight years of a 10- to 25-year sentence. Kevorkian, who is believed to have assisted in up to 130 suicides of terminally ill people, was paroled in 2007.



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