Four accused of assisting in man’s suicide indicted in Georgia

Patient allegedly was on the mend

By Greg Bluestein
Associated Press / March 10, 2010

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ATLANTA - A grand jury indicted four members of an assisted suicide group yesterday, accusing them of helping a 58-year-old man with cancer kill himself.

The four - the Final Exit Network’s former president, its former medical director, and two others - were indicted by a Forsyth County, Ga., grand jury on charges of offering assistance in the commission of suicide, tampering with evidence, and violating the state’s anti-racketeering law..

They were arrested more than a year ago in connection with John Celmer’s death after an eight-month investigation in which an undercover agent infiltrated the group.

Authorities say the network, which was also indicted, has helped dozens of people kill themselves. Some members already faced charges in Arizona.

The indictment names former network president Thomas E. Goodwin, former medical director Dr. Lawrence D. Egbert, Nicholas Alec Sheridan, and Claire Blehr.

The group and its attorneys have long argued that members never actively assist with suicide, but simply guide people through the process.

“We’ve been working on this case for a year,’’ said Don Samuel, a defense lawyer who represents Egbert and the network. “We’re confident in our defense, and we expect a very favorable outcome.’’

Other defense attorneys did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment.

Goodwin and Blehr were with Celmer when he died, each holding one of his hands, according to court records. Afterward, investigators said, they removed a helium tank and a hood Celmer wore to help him suffocate. Investigators say Egbert and Sheridan evaluated him before his death and gave the OK for his suicide.

The network bases its work on “The Final Exit,’’ a best-selling suicide manual by British author Derek Humphry. In court papers, investigators said the organization recommends using helium because it is undetectable during an autopsy.

Georgia authorities say Celmer was making a remarkable recovery from cancer when the network sent guides to his home to show him how to suffocate himself.