Right-to-die group fined $30K in Minnesota woman's suicide

Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom
If Minnesotans want to allow assisted suicide, Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom said, there needs to be a clearly defined law permitting it. His office is considering the possibility of seeking an injunction restricting the activities of Final Exit Network in Minnesota.
Glen Stubbe | The Star Tribune via AP 2012

Updated: 1:25 p.m. | Posted: 12:20 p.m.

A national right-to-die group was fined $30,000 on Monday for assisting in a Minnesota woman's suicide in 2007.

Final Exit Network Inc. was convicted in May of assisting the suicide of Doreen Dunn, 57, of Apple Valley, who lived with chronic pain for a decade before she took her own life. The group was also convicted of interfering with a death scene, but was not fined on that charge.

Dakota County District Judge Christian Wilton also ordered Final Exit Network to pay nearly $3,000 in restitution to Dunn's family to cover funeral expenses. But he declined to order the 15 years of probation sought by prosecutors to restrain the group from involvement in other suicides in the state.

Robert Rivas, an attorney for the group, said it would pay the fine this week but plans to appeal. He told the judge that Final Exit Network is unrepentant, and that the court set a precedent by making speech a crime in Minnesota.

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Dunn's husband, Mark Dunn, asked the judge to consider the family's grief at finding out that her death was actually a suicide, after years of believing she died of natural causes.

"When this organization acted as they did, they raised themselves above the law. ... 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," Dunn said.

Final Exit Network, founded in 2004, is a nonprofit incorporated in Georgia that says it has about 3,000 members. It is run by volunteers who believe mentally competent adults have a right to end their lives if they suffer from unbearable pain.

According to trial testimony, Dunn's husband arrived home on May 30, 2007, to find his wife dead, from apparently natural causes. But a 2009 investigation in Georgia revealed that Dunn had joined Final Exit Network and that two members were her "Exit Guides." Equipment she used to take her life by helium asphyxiation, the group's preferred method, had been removed from the scene.

"There is no compassion whatsoever in what this corporation did to the family of Doreen Dunn," Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom told reporters afterward.

If Minnesotans want to allow assisted suicide, Backstrom said, there needs to be a clearly defined law permitting it, and it should apply only to people who are terminally ill, which he pointed out that Doreen Dunn was not.

Backstrom said his office is considering the possibility of seeking an injunction restricting the group's activities in Minnesota. He said criminal cases are still pending against two Final Exit Network members, including Dr. Larry Egbert, the group's former medical director, who was one of Doreen Dunn's "Exit Guides" and testified at the corporation's trial.