Thursday, March 12, 2009

Stephen Drake: Final Exit Network, Zealotry and Groupthink

Stephen Drake, the research analyst at Not Dead Yet, is possibly the leader who is following the Final Exit Network (FEN) arrests the closest.

Two days ago Drake commented on the recent article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution where they interviewed Dr. Lawrence Egbert, with the Final Exit Network who basically says they did nothing wrong. Drake's comments:

The latest story from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution centers on Dr. Lawrence Egbert, the "medical director" of Final Exit Network (FEN). According to the AJC, Egbert's own words describe him as some sort of Bizarro-world version of Will Rogers, who said "I never met a man I didn't like."

In the Bizarro world of Egbert and company, it runs like this: "I (almost) never saw a suicide plea from someone who didn't deserve to die."

From the article:

As medical director and co-founder of the Georgia-based Final Exit Network, Egbert in the past four years approved the applications of people who wanted to die because they were diagnosed with terminal cancer.

He approved the applications of people who wanted to die because their bodies were wasting away with ALS or multiple sclerosis.

He approved the applications of people who had not been diagnosed as terminally ill but whose quality of life, in their mind, was no longer worth living.

Egbert, an 81-year-old Baltimore anesthesiologist and teacher affiliated with the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said in an interview Friday that there were times when he rejected people who wanted to die, “but not very frequently.”

Of course, the allegations from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation go beyond simply providing information and "being there.":

The GBI says the group has a pattern of assisting people in suicides in which a “hood” is lowered over the person’s face, and the person breathes helium until losing consciousness. Death can take 10 or 20 minutes longer.

The GBI alleges that the group breaks state law by holding the hands of the person to prevent struggle or removal of the hood.

There's no word yet as to whether or not the GBI has this on tape, which is a common practice in "sting" operations.

Friends and sympathizers reject the notion that members of FEN could ever have actively prevented someone from taking the "exit bag" off.

Yet, out of at least 200 (Egbert admits to this) suicides, there apparently hasn't been one single case in which a person changed their mind - rejecting the feeling of suffocation and claustrophobia. Not one. If there had been one, that person would have needed immediate medical attention. There would be no time to get rid of evidence - paraphernalia, fingerprints, etc. before the paramedics arrived. There sure would be a lot of unpleasant questions to deal with - and possibly a civil suit by the family if brain damage occurred.

But that is pretty cynical and self-serving motivation. It's easy enough for those of us who don't think much of the ethics of pro-euthanasia/assisted suicide activists to believe members of FEN would slide from "assistance" to "murder."

But most people probably don't feel that way. It's unthinkable, many would say, that intelligent and ethical people could let their behavior lapse so badly.

Guess what. It's not unthinkable at all. In fact there's a name for the phenomenon in which intelligent and ethical individuals - as members of a tightly knit group - can do stupid and unethical things.

It's called groupthink - originally studied and defined by psychologist Irving Janis. It's a fascinating and complex topic, with some real-world examples.

Janis identified eight symptoms that put a group of individuals at risk for falling into groupthink:
- Illusions of invulnerability creating excessive optimism and encouraging risk taking.
- Rationalising warnings that might challenge the group's assumptions.
- Unquestioned belief in the morality of the group, causing members to ignore the consequences of their actions.
- Stereotyping those who are opposed to the group as weak, evil, disfigured, impotent, or stupid.
- Direct pressure to conform placed on any member who questions the group, couched in terms of "disloyalty".
- Self censorship of ideas that deviate from the apparent group consensus.
- Illusions of unanimity among group members, silence is viewed as agreement.

Mindguards — self-appointed members who shield the group from dissenting information.
After years of operating without any consequences, it's easy to see how FEN members could have developed a feedling of invulnerability. Anyone who has lurked on Derek Humphry's (Humphry is an advisor to FEN) email list or engaged the most zealous euthanasia supporters has encountered the symptoms covered in numbers 2-4 firsthand. Number 5 has played out on Derek Humphry's email list several times - most notably when one member suggested that Jack Kevorkian's activities in assisted suicide might have been reckless and irresponsible. Seeing that kind of thing play out makes it quite possible that there is at least some degree of self-censorship going on within the movement to avoid the dogpiling that occurred in the Kevorkian episode. That, of course, leads to the illusion of unanimity. While it's impossible to know if there were "mindguards" in FEN itself, Humphry is pretty careful in handpicking information sent out to his list, highlighting news items that reinforce the "rightness" of his cause and framing the opponents as opportunists and/or religious zealots.

So, even starting from the highly questionable assumption that FEN members are moral and ethical people, they operate in a world that is geared toward the erosion of those aspects of their character in favor of group cohesion, loyalty and self-preservation. --Stephen Drake

Link to the original blog article:

Link to the article in the Atlantic Journal Constitution:


Bob Levine said...

More nonsense from Stephen Drake. He has no solutions - just criticisms of elderly volunteers working for nothing who, when asked, were only trying to guide disparately ill people who wanted to end their life.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if he had some solutions - even one!

Alex Schadenberg said...

Bob Levine suggests that Stephen Drake lacks solutions.

Dear Bob:

Since when did killing people become the solution for people with disabilities or people who are depressed? When did taking advantage of people who need social and psychological support in their time of need become a social good?

Final Exit Network is about people who feel a high when they are directly and intentionally involved with causing the death of another person.