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