Bioethics Blogs

Minnesota Case: Final Exit Network Found Guilty of a Crime for Mere Speech

A 12-member Minnesota jury found Final Exit Network, Inc. guilty of “assisting” in a suicide and interfering with the scene of a death so as to mislead the coroner.  Judge Christian Wilton set the sentencing hearing to take place on August 24. The convictions carry potential fines of $33,000.  (A corporation cannot be incarcerated.)

Oddly, the State’s case consisted of proof that the Network’s volunteers provided information, education, and emotional support to Doreen Dunn in her self-deliverance on May 30, 2007.  In short, the State’s entire case proceeded on the theory that Final Exit Network could be convicted solely for exercising its First Amendment-protected right to freedom of speech.

The State had originally indicted the Network with plans, to convict the Network of “advising” or “encouraging” a suicide, since the State had no evidence of “assisting.”  But in separate cases both the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court held those parts of the Minnesota statute were unconstitutional under the First Amendment.

But notwithstanding those rulings, the FEN trial court determined that one could “assist” a suicide by pure speech, if the speech enabled the suicide.  So, even though mere “advising” and “encouraging” a suicide are constitutionally protected, that very same conduct is (covertly) prohibited by applying a broad reading of “assisting” that includes “advising.” 

The Network immediately initiated plans to appeal to the Minnesota Court of Appeals.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.