Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Who are the Final Exit Network?

By Alex Schadenberg
Executive Director - Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

Members of the Final Exit Network (FEN) have been on trial in Arizona, Georgia and now Minnesota. The question is - who are the Final Exit Network?

The first place to look for information about FEN is from Stephen Drake, the research analyst for the disability rights group Not Dead Yet. Drake has been following FEN for many years and is an expert on FEN.

Many people know about the Hemlock Society that was co-founded by Derek Humphry, who co-wrote the book Jean's Way (a story of how he helped to kill his first wife) and who wrote the book Final Exit. The Hemlock Society over the past few years has merged with other groups to become Compassion and Choices. Humphry is now the chair of the advisory board for FEN.

FEN is a group that aids and counsels suicide. FEN will journey with a person to assist them in completing a suicide as part of their Exit Guide Service. The FEN describes the following criteria for assisting a suicide:
  • they suffer from a fatal or irreversible illness or intractable pain,
  • they judge that their quality of life is unacceptable to them,
  • they judge that their future is hopeless.
John Celmer
Notice that the "criteria" has nothing to do with being mentally competent or terminally ill. The court cases that FEN went through in Arizona and Georgia were based on people who were very depressed. In Georgia Susan Celmer, the widow of John Celmer (who died with the aid of FEN), testified before a legislative committee that her husband was experiencing deep depression.

The Washington Post published (January 2012), an article that was written by Manuel Roig-Franzia about Lawrence Egbert, a retired doctor who was hailed as the new face of the assisted suicide movement, after the death of Jack Kevorkian.

The article is very interesting for what it says and for how it describes Egbert's motives.

In the Washington Post article Egbert demonstrates how the "exit hood" works. Egbert also brags about the number of deaths he has assisted and states that he is willing to assist a suicide of a person who is chronically depressed. The Washington Post article states:
Egbert estimates he has been present for 100 suicides in the past 15 years, a figure that puts him in the same league with the famed assisted-suicide maverick Jack Kevorkian, who claimed to have helped more than 130 people die. Egbert calls Kevorkian a “radical” because the latter took an active role in some suicides, building a machine to administer lethal doses and sometimes injecting patients himself. Egbert sees his work as a calling, a vocation aimed at ending suffering. But he says he provides only guidance and support.

Egbert says he approved applications for about 300 suicides, most as medical director of the Final Exit Network, a loosely knit group that claims 3,000 dues-paying members. Even within his own organization, Egbert is controversial. The vast majority of the network’s members suffer from painful physical ailments such as late-stage cancer, he says. But unlike the group’s current leadership, Egbert is also willing, in extreme cases, he says, to serve as an “exit guide” for patients who have suffered from depression for extended periods of time.
Exit Hood
FEN claims that they only provide information, but the Washington Post article indicates that they also counsel the person to suicide. The article describes how FEN promotes the use of the Exit hood (suicide bag):
Final Exit’s patients are instructed that they can buy helium tanks at party stores, Egbert tells me. Remnants of his clients’ visits to party stores lie beneath the hoods, at the bottom of Egbert’s garbage bag. Here is a pack of balloons. Pink, blue, yellow, green.

For the hoods, Egbert’s organization has recommended two suppliers: One sells a $60 hood with a “very adjustable ‘sweatband’ neck, considered superior to bags with Velcro necks,” according to a script used by volunteer phone operators, known as “first responders.” The other option is called an “Orchid Bag” and has an elastic neck.
FEN claims that they do not break the law, but Egbert admits in the article that he not only provides Exit hoods (suicide bags) but that they also remove evidence from the location after the death has occurred. The Washington Post article states:
Egbert tells me that years ago he asked someone who was about to “exit” if he could reuse the hood to save future patients the cost of buying a new one. The patient was delighted with the idea, Egbert says. He started asking everyone.
The hood in my bare hands feels slightly slick. So, this one, the one I’m holding, has been used to end someone’s life? I ask. Egbert tells me it has surely been used at least once, and maybe several times, and the same could be said for most of the other 17 hoods in the garbage bag.
The Washington Post article indicates that Egbert will often provide a used Exit hood for the suicide. This statement clearly indicates that FEN counsels and provides the means of death for suicide. One or both of these acts would contravene the law in most states and in most countries.

FEN claims that they are a group of people who only journey with a dying person to there final end. Egbert describes an earlier assisted suicide where the woman had failed twice to commit suicide.The Washington Post article stated:
In the early days, Egbert says, he and other volunteers used a common supermarket “turkey bag,” which had a tendency to fail on occasion. Once, he recalls, he was working with a woman who’d had two unsuccessful suicide attempts. The woman seemed to die but awoke a few minutes later. “You screwed up twice yourself — you call in the pros, and we couldn’t do it either!” he told her. They patched a hole in the bag, and this time it worked.
Clearly Egbert actively participated in the assisted suicide death.

Egbert admits a couple of times in the Washington Post article that he is unsure of what he is doing. He refers to the fact that his father was involved with the Nuremberg trials after World War II and he also refers to his opposition to the Death Penalty. The Washington Post article states:
The father’s experiences prompted the son’s curiosity. The younger Egbert fixated on the appalling actions of Nazi doctors, especially the experiments they had conducted, such as immersing inmates in ice water or injecting them with poisons.
“Most of them thought it was justified,” Egbert says one afternoon. “Some of them were delighted by it.”
As he did with the death penalty doctors in Texas, Egbert weighed the choices that Nazi doctors made — choices that eventually led to unspeakable evils — against the choices he made.
“It makes me suspicious of everything I do — that I might be doing something evil,” he says. “I think about it a lot.”
He thinks of doctors consulting for executions, for instance, and imagines “a slippery slope.” He also wonders whether his own work could nudge society toward something awful.
“I could be part of a slippery slope,” he says, “to us becoming like Nazis — the Final Exit Network, and me as an individual.”
Egbert explains in the Washington Post article how FEN decides to assist a suicide.
To be “guided” by the network, people who want to commit suicide are asked to apply for membership and pay annual dues of $50, which goes toward operating expenses such as travel. After a person joins, a “medical committee” decides whether the applicant is eligible, starting a process of consultations that can last years. The committee was supposed to have three members, but in reality Egbert was making most of the decisions on his own. ...
Egbert has estimated that he approved 95 percent of applications.
Egbert also described another case from a few years previous, a woman who experienced chronic depression who Egbert and Jerry Dincin assisted the suicide.
The woman was a 65-year-old teacher who had suffered from extreme bouts of depression since she was a teenager and was prone to violent outbursts. Still, “I had very lively mixed feelings, just looking at her,” Egbert says. “Very attractive, very intelligent. A woman who could walk for miles — pretty much do anything.”
He decided she qualified, though, because she had tried antidepressants and electroshock therapy without success. Egbert and Dincin rented a car and drove to her home. She put on a bathrobe and followed their instructions to sit with her head tilted slightly up. She released the valves, pulled the hood over her head and Egbert told her to “breathe normal.”
“At that time I took her hand,” Egbert says. “My colleague took her other hand.” He was comforting her, not trying to stop her from removing the hood, he says.
When it was done, they collected the equipment and left.
It is interesting that Egbert admits that they held her hands, and then emphasized that they were not trying to stop her from removing the hood. The official FEN guidebook emphasizes the importance of holding a persons hands to prevent them from removing the hood.

It is important to understand that groups, like FEN, think that they are helping people, when in fact they are fulfilling their own personal and emotional needs.

Causing death creates a feeling of power and control. Egbert liked to decide that they would go ahead and assist the suicide of a person who is depressed or suicidal.

It is also important to notice that the people who are dying are rarely terminal, usually depressed, and often living with chronic conditions or with disabilities.

The next time you read an article promoting euthanasia for people who are terminally ill or suffering, read the article from the Washington Post. It is important to notice what Egbert is really saying as he is being promoted as being more prolific than Jack Kevorkian.

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