A Minnesota judge fined a national right-to-die organization $30,000 for assisting in a Minnesota woman’s 2007 suicide.
The group, Final Exit Network, provides free “exit guide” services to members in all 50 states who are interested in taking their lives. In 2007, two volunteers from the organization traveled to Doreen Dunn’s home and reportedly helped her commit suicide by helium asphyxiation, then cleaned up to hide the suicide from her family. Dunn, 57, was an Apple Valley resident who had suffered from chronic pain for 10 years.
In May, a jury convicted Final Exit Network for assisting in Dunn’s suicide and interfering with the death scene. The group maintains it only advised and encouraged Dunn in her desire to take her life, both allowed as free speech. Final Exit Network’s attorney, Robert Rivas, said the group is “unrepentant” after Monday’s (Aug. 24) sentencing and plans to continue operating in Minnesota.
Dunn’s husband found his wife dead in their home of apparently natural causes. It was not until 2009 that investigators informed him she had become a member of the Final Exit Network months before her death and used its services to commit suicide.
“When this organization acted as they did, they raised themselves above the law,” Mark Dunn told the court. “By their deception they have shown a calculated, cruel disregard. Then, with an arrogance that is breathtaking, they posture themselves as compassionate, while at the same time they argue technicalities of law to obscure and avoid their responsibility.”
The court also considered a statement from Dunn’s daughter, Alaena Dunn-Hoffman, who said her mother was not mentally competent to make the choice to end her life, according to the Star-Tribune.
“I have to explain this heart-wrenching, twisted, grotesque story to my children,” she said. “A story that involves a plastic hood, a helium tank, and my mom suffocating to death while two strangers sit calmly and watch.”
Since Dunn’s death, the group claims it has changed its policies and Dunn likely would no longer qualify for its services, both because of questions about her mental competency and the fact that she did not have a terminal illness. It also said it now makes every effort to inform family and loved ones of its members’ death decisions.
On Monday, the judge put the group on probation until it pays the $30,000 fine, the maximum sentence allowed under Minnesota law. Rivas claims donations since the conviction have exceeded the fine, which the group plans to pay immediately so it can continue working in Minnesota. It also plans to appeal the conviction. Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom said he is pursuing an injunction to stop the group from operating in Minnesota.
Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life applauded the court’s decision and affirmed current Minnesota law protecting residents from “suicide predators” like Final Exit Network.
“Final Exit Network purposely came into our state, broke our law, and assisted in the suicide of a vulnerable person who needed care, not suicide,” Executive Director Scott Fischbach said in a statement.
A bill introduced in the Minnesota legislature in 2015 would give terminally ill adults the right to end their own lives. State Sen. Chris Eaton says she filed “The Minnesota Compassionate Care Act” as a conversation starter this year but plans to reintroduce the bill and push its passage in 2016. Five states—Oregon, Washington, Montana, New Mexico, and Vermont—have decriminalized or passed assisted suicide legislation.
— by Kiley Crossland