Final Exit right-to-die activists booked in suspected Apple Valley suicide

Lawrence D. Egbert; Thomas Goodwin; and Roberta Massey
Lawrence D. Egbert; Thomas Goodwin; and Roberta Massey
Pioneer Press

Three members of the Final Exit Network were booked in Dakota County yesterday for their role in the alleged 2007 suicide of an Apple Valley woman. A fourth defendant, Jerry D. Dincin, didn't appear because he is reportedly dying.

Dr. Lawrence D. Egbert, Thomas Goodwin, Roberta Massey and Jerry Dincin stand accused of assisting another to commit suicide and interfering with a death scene for allegedly helping Doreen Dunn die by helium asphyxiation.

Dunn was 57 and "had been suffering for several years with chronic pain and had been very depressed," according to the Dakota County Attorney's Office. Her husband came home May 30, 2007 and found his wife dead on the sofa. An autopsy determined she died of natural causes.

Final Exit Network is based in Georgia, where it was under investigation for another death. During that investigation, Georgian police located documents linking the non-profit to Dunn's death.

Georgian police contacted the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension in the fall of 2009 to report the Final Exit documents, and an investigation began.

According to a statement from Dakota County Attorney Jim Backstrom:

[I]nvestigating officers located documentation indicating that Doreen Dunn became a member of Final Exit Network in January of 2007. Additional documents were recovered indicating that Thomas Goodwin, Roberta Massey, Jerry Dincin and Lawrence Egbert were aware that Doreen Dunn had become a member of Final Exit Network and was considering ending her life through suicide. The documents also indicated that Goodwin, Massey, Dincin and Egbert had discussed Dunn's suicide plan prior to May 30, 2007. Documents were also recovered indicating that Dincin and Egbert were present inside Dunn's residence at the time of her death on May 30, 2007 and that she had died from helium asphyxiation. According to the Dakota County Medical Examiner, death by helium asphyxiation results from the helium replacing oxygen in the body and cannot be detected in a subsequent autopsy.

The Pioneer Press reports that this isn't the first trial for Final Exit. Earlier this year, Georgia's Supreme Court dismissed charges against the group and some volunteers; an investigation in Arizona "resulted in minor convictions against two volunteers. In that case, Egbert was found not guilty of conspiring to assist in a suicide."

Final Exit Network claims to support "the human right to a death with dignity"
Final Exit Network claims to support "the human right to a death with dignity"

Final Exit Network did not return a message seeking comment, but in a statement on its website defended its work.

"It is appalling that the government would spend so much of its resources in this political prosecution," said Wendell Stephenson, the group's president. "We look forward to an opportunity to bring out the truth about Final Exit Network's compassionate volunteers in court."

We reached out to Backstrom to ask why it's important to prosecute this case and whether people should have the right to die or not. Spokeswoman Monica Jensen directed us to Backstrom's earlier statement when the indictment was unsealed.

"This investigation and prosecution is not a politically motivated attack on the right-to-die movement as the Final Exit Network is already claiming it to be on its website," Backstrom said. "Rather, it is an effort to bring to justice a corporation and several of its officers and volunteers who we are alleging advised, encouraged or assisted Doreen Dunn in the taking of her own life on May 30, 2007 in violation of Minnesota law."

Backstrom went on to add that if the people of Minnesota wanted to authorize assisted suicide, it should "be done through clearly defined laws enacted by the Minnesota Legislature with proper restrictions and requirements to insure the protection of a terminally ill patient and the direct involvement of the patient's physician and immediate family."

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