Alleged Assisted Suicide Ring
Part One of Two
By Dave Andrusko
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Part Two looks
at "Obama Administration to Rescind Bush Rule on
'Conscience' for Doctors and Health Care
Four members of what the
Associated Press calls an "alleged assisted
suicide ring known as the Final Exit Network"
have been charged in the June 2008 death of John
Celmer, a 58-year-old Georgia man. "Authorities
say the group may have been involved in up to
200 deaths across the country," the AP reports.
Founded in 2004, the Network,
based in Georgia, claims 3,000 members, donors
and volunteers. The Final Exit Network bases its
work on the best-selling suicide manual, "The
Final Exit," by Derek Humphry, who is chairman
of its advisory board.
The four members of the Final
Exit Network included its president, Thomas E.
Goodwin, and its medical director, Dr. Lawrence
D. Egbert. They were charged with assisted
suicide, tampering with evidence, and violation
of the Georgia RICO (Racketeer Influenced and
Corrupt Organizations) Act. According to the AP,
the assisted suicide charge carries a penalty of
up to five years.
"The law is very clear," said
Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) spokesman
John Bankhead, "and they clearly violated it."
According to GBI documents,
Celmer had not appeared to be seriously ill at
the time of his death. He was cancer-free and
his physician said he had made a "remarkable
recovery" from throat and mouth cancer, the
Associated Press reported. "Authorities said he
may have been embarrassed about his appearance
after jaw surgery."
After Celmer's death, his wife
became suspicious. She found one of the letters
he had sent to the Final Exit Network "as well
as release forms he had signed for the group,"
the Los Angeles Times reported. "According to
investigators, Goodwin and [member Claire] Blehr
were with Celmer when he died, each holding a
hand, and the two cleaned up the scene afterward
by removing the hood and the helium tanks."
An undercover agent was able
to infiltrate the network, posing as someone who
wanted to commit suicide.
His "death had been planned
for months, authorities say," the Atlanta
Journal Constitution reported. "Two helium tanks
were purchased, along with an "exit bag," or
hood to be placed over the suicidal man's head.
Thomas 'Ted' Goodwin, 63, formerly of Kennesaw,
and Claire Blehr, 76, of Atlanta, would observe
the death of the man they were told suffered
from pancreatic cancer. In truth, the man was a
Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent conducting
a sting operation at a residence in Dawson
According to authorities, on
Wednesday, "Goodwin walked the undercover agent
through the steps that would have killed him. He
demonstrated how he would hold down the
undercover agent's hands to prohibit him from
removing the 'exit bag,'" the Journal
Constitution reported. At that point additional
agents moved in to make the arrests.
Meanwhile, the group's medical
director, Dr. Lawrence D. Egbert, was arrested
by Maryland authorities, as was a regional
coordinator, Nicholas Alec Sheridan.
"Investigators said Egbert and Sheridan
evaluated Celmer before his death and gave the
OK for his suicide."
Investigators "searched 14
sites in Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Maryland,
Michigan, Ohio, Missouri, Colorado, and
Montana," as part of the eight-month-long probe,
the Times reported.
The vice president of Final
Exit Network had a different take. "We're just
there to help," Jerry Dincin, the group's vice
president, who was not arrested, told the Los
Angeles Times "People insist upon it. They want
to do what they want to do. They're suffering,
and if they have intolerable pain, then they
want to sometimes get out of that intolerable
Stephen Drake, of the
anti-euthanasia organization, Not Dead Yet,
posted this on his blog yesterday. "Back in
2007, the Phoenix New Times published an
investigative report about the suspected
involvement of members of the group in the death
of Jana Van Voorhis, who struggled with issues
related to depression for many years. Yesterday,
the county attorney in charge of the Van Voorhis
case announced it is now on the "front burner."
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Part Two --
Obama Administration to Rescind Bush Rule
on 'Conscience' for Doctors and Health Care