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

AP News
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Posted: Aug 24, 2015 9:30 PM
Right-to-die group fined $30K in Minnesota woman's suicide

HASTINGS, Minn. (AP) — A national right-to-die group convicted of assisting in the 2007 suicide of a Minnesota woman was ordered Monday to pay a $30,000 fine — the maximum sentence allowed under state law.

Final Exit Network Inc. was convicted in May of assisting in the suicide of Doreen Dunn, a 57-year-old Apple Valley woman who took her life after a decade of suffering from chronic pain. In addition to the fine, the group was also ordered to pay nearly $3,000 to Dunn's family to cover funeral expenses.

Judge Christian Wilton gave the group until Oct. 2 to pay the fine and restitution. He placed the group on probation — restricting the group's activities in Minnesota — until the fine is paid. Probation will be lifted once payments are made.

Robert Rivas, the group's attorney, told the judge that Final Exit Network is "unrepentant." After the hearing, he said the group will continue to operate in Minnesota and won't change its policies because of this case. But Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom said his office is exploring an injunction to stop the group's activities, which he called legally wrong and "morally reprehensible."

Rivas said the group will pay the fine this week in order to end the probationary period that could interrupt its services.

Final Exit Network, founded in 2004, is a nonprofit group 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.

Dunn's husband, Mark Dunn, spoke in court about the pain of mourning for his wife when she died, then again three years later when the family learned she took her life with the help of strangers.

"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.

He asked backers of the right-to-die movement to reconsider their support of this group. In a statement read by prosecutors, Dunn's daughter, Alaena Dunn-Hoffman, also addressed the group's supporters.

"I have to explain this heart-wrenching, twisted, grotesque story to my children. A story that involves a plastic hood, a helium tank, and my mom suffocating to death while two strangers sit calmly and watch," her statement said.

Rivas said the group has changed its policies since Dunn's death and is now informing family members and loved ones about a person's decision. In addition, the group has stricter guidelines when assessing whether exit services will be provided for someone with mental illness.

Under current policies, Rivas said, it's unlikely Dunn would have qualified for the group's services.

Rivas plans to appeal, and said the donations generated by the publicity surrounding this case have exceeded the amount of the fine.

Backstrom said criminal cases are pending against two Final Exit Network members, including Dr. Larry Egbert, the group's former medical director, who was one of Dunn's "Exit Guides" and testified at the corporation's trial.

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