Georgia Supreme Court to review ban on assisted suicide

The state Supreme Court just sent word that it will review a challenge to the state’s ban on assisted suicide, arising from the indictment of officials connected with Final Exit Network of New Jersey.

Oral arguments have been scheduled for next Monday. From a case summary:

According to briefs filed by state prosecutors, the case involves John Celmer of Forsyth County, who was diagnosed with cancer in 2006. Celmer contacted the Final Exit Network and paid a $50 membership fee. In May 2008, he spoke to Nicholas Sheridan, the organization’s Southeast Regional Coordinator and sent him medical records and a statement that he wished to die. Sheridan assigned Celmer a “first responder,” who completed by phone a questionnaire with Celmer which she then submitted to Sheridan.

According to the State, Sheridan then forwarded the questionnaire and medical records to Thomas Goodwin, the organization’s president who subsequently approved Celmer for assistance….

Celmer ordered an “exit hood” from the GLADD Group and purchased two tanks of helium from Party City. According to the State, in June 2008, Blehr and Goodwin went to Celmer’s home and helped connect the hood to one of the helium tanks before placing it on Celmer’s head. They then held his hands while Celmer inhaled helium through the hood and died/

In March 2010, Sheridan, Goodwin, Blehr and Dr. Lawrence Egbert, a physician who served as the organization’s medical director, were indicted by a Forsyth County grand jury on charges of offering to assist in commission of suicide, tampering with evidence (the State claims Blehr and Goodwin disposed of the hood and helium tanks in a dumpster) and violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).

The case has yet to go to trial. In early motions, the defendants challenged the ban on suicide assistance on First Amendment grounds. The state Supreme Court has agreed to review a lower court ruling that the law is constitutional. The law was enacted in 1994 in response to the hoopla surrounding suicides involving Dr. Jack Kevorkian.

A taste of the defendants’ argument:

But the statute does not “generally prohibit assistance in suicide,” the lawyers argue in briefs. “Anyone in Georgia may assist others in suicide so long as he does not make a public statement about it first.” “The ‘crime’ of section 16-5-5(b) is made criminal only because of the speech.”

The trial court ruled that “the State has a compelling interest to protect people contemplating suicide.” “While that statement may be true in the abstract, the statute at issue is solely directed to preventing the advertising, offering, or holding out by one that she will assist another in a suicide,” the lawyers argue.

“The Georgia statute does nothing to inhibit assistance in a suicide by one’s friends, family, neighbors, doctors, nurses, clergy, or even by one’s sworn enemies or prospective heirs. The statute directs its fire only at anyone who first ‘publicly’ advertises, offers or holds out a solicitation of his or her availability to assist in a suicide.” Georgia law does not prohibit assisted suicide and therefore there’s no compelling interest in preventing assisted suicide.

- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider

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24 comments Add your comment


November 2nd, 2011
12:46 pm

death is so cleansing


November 2nd, 2011
1:41 pm

I would think you cons out there would embrace this as supply and demand.


November 2nd, 2011
1:52 pm

“They then held his hands while Celmer inhaled helium through the hood and died”

Tragic, yet you have to wonder if the helium inhaler’s final words were in a funny voice.


November 2nd, 2011
1:52 pm

Advancement in artificially keeping people alive against their will without dignity, with pain, immense debilitation,, unconsciousness, coma has created this dilemma. Many doctors will simply prescribe enough pain killer/ medication to shutdown a dying patient from lingering – but fear of lawyers limits those who do what is in the terminal patient’s stated desire. “Do not resuscitate” orders and living wills are often ignored, or overturned. Surviving family members must watch this torture until even the “heroic” efforts no longer work, then are presented with huge conflict of interest medical related bills. It has been said that totalitarian regimes who execute political opponents charge the families for the bullets – we are not much more tolerant.

There have to be better ways for a dignified exit under certain circumstances. Violent suicides leave long family scars. Self overdosing often only leads to added interim debilitation and huge hospital bills.

Off de Plantation

November 2nd, 2011
1:53 pm

WHAT? A Galloway column not bashing Republicans or Herman Cain? Tell the editors that a mistake has been made. But wait..Oh, I see, it’s George Bush’s fault that assisted suicide is allowed in Georgia. Damn Republicans…can’t a person even die in peace?. Herman gets a one-day reprieve.


November 2nd, 2011
1:53 pm

This will have to be overturned!
If minority, gay, and liberals vote republican [or don’t vote at all] they are assisting in Georgia’s political suicide.


November 2nd, 2011
1:59 pm

Centrist, it reminds me of that new commercial with the lady at her father’s hospital bed crying about cuts in Medicare for hospitalization. The last 30 days of life should not cost the US $300-500k to postpone the inevitable.


November 2nd, 2011
2:11 pm

Well, see there – I don’t agree with Republicans about there being a “death committee” when it comes to this – but the “Politifact” ignores how Obamacare has a small group of political folks to make healthcare decisions instead of the patient (when able), doctors, and family.


November 2nd, 2011
2:13 pm

So we should provide unlimited care for family members to say their good bye’s over a month instead of a weekend?


November 2nd, 2011
2:15 pm

if there are any politicians who would like assistance let me know


November 2nd, 2011
2:35 pm

The libertarian in me says that if a person wants to leave this world then so be and let them leave, so long as it is the persons decision alone. The government should totally stay out of any decision being made.

The problem I have is when you make assisted suicide legal then you have government regulations involved as to how it has to be done, what mind frame the person has to be in and whatever else they want to make up.

Bottom line: If you want to kill yourself then just go get your gun, put it in your mouth and pull the trigger and leave everyone else out of the decision.


November 2nd, 2011
4:15 pm

To TD, you know there are 2 states where VOTERS LEGALIZED assisted suicide (WA and OR), 2 NON REPUBLICAN YET LIBERTARIAN states. Personal freedoms are actually taken seriously, and there is a process. I think the Montana Supreme Court legalized this as well. As a libertarian leaning liberal (I am totally libertarian on $$ issues), conservatives want to dictate non money aspects of one’s life, so I vote against R’s all the time. They will dictate this as well. I feel sorry for the people in GA who have to be hassled when they are sick and want to leave for the next life.


November 2nd, 2011
4:26 pm

@td: Ii’m glad you are a libertarian, but why is the messiest way the only acceptable way? Not to mention that a very ill person may be too debilitated to obtain a gun. Rules are important to the extent necessary to try to avoid having folks with a temporary problem choosing a permamnent solution. But a sane person with a serious, permanent (and possibly excruciating) condition has the right to choose their own path, including the right to kill themselves in an effective, pain-free manner, and with as much or as little assistance as they think they need. I hope the Supreme Court makes a truly conservative decision here. If you believe in freedom, you should be agianst this law.


November 2nd, 2011
4:36 pm

If i was properly diagnosed with terminal illness, I would like to have the ability to end my life in the manner of my choosing. I hope our court recognizes the peoples’ right to make this decision.


November 2nd, 2011
4:41 pm

Moral of the story: get your own helium.


November 2nd, 2011
7:06 pm

The defendants are elderly and caring individuals. They are not felons. When my time comes I would love to have such gentle kindly people to hold my hand.
But in Georgia no good deed goes unpunished. They will be crucified for their good intentions.

[...] The defendants appear to be making two primary claims. One is a free speech argument, and the other is a claim that the conduct with which they are charged, even if true, does not violate the statute.  From the Atlanta Constitution story: [...]

Maida Cannizzo

November 3rd, 2011
7:37 pm

They have been very versatile and of course, I haven’t had any more snide remarks about my own dress.

[...] Apparently, the state outlawed assisted suicide in reaction to the Jack Kevorkian rampage. …Georgia Supreme Court to review ban on assisted suicideAtlanta Journal Constitution (blog)all 20 news [...]

common sense

November 4th, 2011
12:37 pm

First of all, Off de Plantation – what the heck are you talking about?? LOL. The article makes no reference of G.W. Bush, Republicans, or any political angle on this whatsoever. He is simply talking about the history of the case, the statutes, and detailing the legal arguments that will be made on Monday. You might want to switch to decaf!

Second, I think until you watch a family member die a painful, nightmarish death you will never understand why this can be seen as a better option. Don’t judge unless you’ve been there. While I wouldn’t go this route, the liberatian part of me also says that people have to make that personal moral decision for themselves. And all personal, moral decisions.

common sense

November 4th, 2011
12:37 pm

sorry, Libertarian!

Tora Kinseth

November 4th, 2011
1:33 pm

I had been wrong. A parent helping with the dance was walking behind me. I can still hear him say, “Man, you sure learn how to make good clothes appear cheap. “


November 8th, 2011
8:53 pm

Some of these comments re: assisted suicide are from real morons. You think it’s funny? Try living for 23 yrs in so much pain that your life was completely destroyed, from an incurable disease, then at 45, after being misdiagnosed you find out that you have stage 4 breast cancer that has metastisized to many lymph nodes and a lung, also stage 4. After 8 yrs of every pill, every treatment, well over 100 surgeries, it is still spreading! You are in so much pain that you can barely move, every second is a living hell! You’ve wanted to committ suicide for years, but can’t take enough pills to do it & don’t have the guts to shoot yourself. Every night I beg not to wake up the next day. I can never get any better only worse! Assisted suicide is a godsend. Most people use methods that are a little more sophisticated than helium. It’s like being knocked out for surgery & you just don’t wake up. How peaceful, quiet & dignified. A wonderful way to go & that’s what I am planning. Don’t ever pass judgement on someone, until you have walked in their shoes!