The debate over voluntary euthanasia in the United States has been thrust back into the headlines by the arrest of four people by authorities in the state of Georgia. Four members of the Final Exit Network were arrested on Feb. 25 and charged with assisting in a suicide and other offenses, including violating Georgia’s RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) Act. The RICO charges, based on a law against organized crime and usually associated with the Mafia, could result in sentences of up to 20 years imprisonment.
“I am extremely concerned by the arrest of these people who are dedicated to supporting people’s right to a dignified death,” said Sonja Eggerickx, president of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU). “I met with one of the arrested men, Ted Goodwin, at the IHEU World Humanist Congress in Washington, DC, last summer. He was a very compassionate man, who clearly cared deeply about helping to end unnecessary suffering. These draconian charges raises new doubts about the outdated, and conflicting, laws on euthanasia in the US.”
The IHEU has long called for national and state laws to allow a competent person, who is incurably ill and suffering, to obtain a dignified, humane death if they so choose. This option, in the form of doctor-assisted euthanasia, is already legal in the US states of Oregon and Washington, as well as in some other countries, including Belgium, the Netherlands, and Switzerland.
The four people arrested were: Thomas “Ted” Goodwin, 63, and Claire Blehr, 76, both of Georgia; and Dr. Lawrence D. Egbert, 81, and Nicholas Alec Sheridan, 60, both of Baltimore, Maryland. Mr Goodwin and Dr. Egbert are the president and medical director, respectively, of the Final Exit Network.