24 Aug Final Exit Network fined $30,000 for assisting Apple Valley woman’s suicide
Right-to-die group says it will appeal conviction over Apple Valley woman’s suicide.
A national right-to-die group plans to keep operating in Minnesota despite a felony conviction and a judge’s order to pay nearly $33,000 for assisting an Apple Valley woman’s suicide.
Final Exit Network is “unrepentant” and will pay the required costs this week and continue providing information to people looking to end their lives, Robert Rivas, an attorney for the group said at Monday’s sentencing hearing in Dakota County.
A jury found the corporation guilty in May of assisting Doreen Dunn’s 2007 suicide and interfering with the death scene. It was the first time the national group had been convicted of a felony for assisting a suicide.
Rivas maintains there is no evidence of assistance, just of advising and encouraging a suicide, which are protected as free speech in Minnesota. He said the group will appeal the conviction.
Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom said in a statement that he is confident the jury’s verdict will be upheld, and his office is looking into civil options to prevent the organization from continuing to provide “exit services” in Minnesota. If residents want to allow assisted suicide they need to change state law, he said.
Mark Dunn told the judge Monday that the Final Exit Network acted with “a calculated, cruel disregard” for others, including his family, when it helped his wife kill herself.
“No one should have to go through this just because a few others are so utterly convinced, to the certainty of death, that they are right,” he said.
Doreen Dunn, 57, wrote to the organization in 2007 saying she had lived with unbearable pain for a decade. A few months later, Mark Dunn found her dead on the couch. She had not told her family she planned to kill herself.
At the trial, prosecutors argued that the group gave Dunn a “blueprint” for ending her life using helium asphyxiation and made efforts to conceal her suicide from family and authorities by removing the equipment she used.
On Monday, Dakota County Judge Christian Wilton heard from Mark Dunn and considered a statement from Dunn’s daughter, who said her mother was not mentally competent to make the choice to end her life. He then imposed the maximum $30,000 fine for assisting a suicide and also ordered the group to pay nearly $3,000 restitution for funeral and burial expenses.
What happened with Dunn would not occur now, Rivas said, because Final Exit Network changed how it operates in response to 2009 court cases in Arizona and Georgia.
The group has become “much more aggressive about seeking out loved ones and relatives,” Rivas said, and people with mental illness are more carefully evaluated.
Other criminal cases related to Dunn’s death are still pending in Dakota County, including charges against Final Exit Network coordinator Roberta Massey, of Bear, Del., and the group’s medical director, Lawrence Egbert, of Baltimore. Another defendant, Jerry Dincin, died. And charges against former president Thomas Goodwin were dismissed in 2013.
At the corporation’s sentencing, Dunn family members urged people associated with the group to reconsider the worthiness of their cause.
Dunn wouldn’t have killed herself without the organization, Dunn’s daughter, Alaena Dunn-Hoffman, wrote in a statement.
Final Exit Network “does not stand for compassion, but instead for a cruel, unfeeling allegiance to a radical cause,” she wrote.
Gary Wederspahn, of South St. Paul, disagreed. He is a member of the network who came to watch Monday’s sentencing. He said he has seen compassion and sincerity from people in the organization who are trying to defend someone’s right to chose how they die.