Arrested Final Exit Network Activists Are Mainstream in Euthanasia Activism

Original Article

The media has been abuzz in recent days at the arrests of four people for allegedly assisting the suicide of Georgia man, John Celmer.

The circumstances of Celmer’s tragic death cast an important light on the assisted suicide movement that is too often overlooked in the media: Celmer wasn’t dying. Indeed, he had been successfully treated for jaw and neck cancer. He was, however, going through a difficult time. He was upset about his appearance, having gone through two reconstructive surgeries after being disfigured by his cancer surgeries. He also needed a hip replacement. But Celmer’s condition was hardly of the kind for which assisted suicide is supposed to be made a legitimate “treatment.”

Except, that it is. Assisted suicide is often sold in the media as if it were “only” intended to be a last resort escape valve, limited to the terminally ill when nothing else can be done to alleviate suffering. But that is pretense. Take the time to look beneath the political posturing and the true agenda — death on demand for people with more than a transitory desire to die — comes clearly into focus.

The reaction of most assisted suicide advocates to Celmer’s death illustrates this truth. The defendants were activists with an assisted suicide advocacy group called the Final Exit Network. FEN’s “exit guides” travel to the home of members to “counsel” them to kill themselves with helium and a plastic bag. One must be a member to qualify for this service, which costs $50 a year. FEN’s website sets forth the criteria for being accepted into the Exit Guide Program.

  1. You must be cognitively functional.
  2. You must be physically strong enough to perform the required tasks.
  3. You must have an incurable condition which causes intolerable suffering.
  4. You must understand the “window of opportunity” which exists while you still have the mental and physical capability to perform the required activities.
  5. You must be able to procure the items required for your use.

Please note that “incurable” is not the same as “terminal,” and could include such conditions as arthritis, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, indeed, for that matter old age and many mental illnesses.

Mental illness?!

“Please Wesley,” some readers may be saying to themselves. “Don’t overstate your case.”

I’m not. FEN activists have been implicated in the suicide of a mentally ill woman in Phoenix, a death still being investigated. More to the point, assisted suicide for the mentally ill has been legally guaranteed by rulings of the Supreme Courts in both the Netherlands and Switzerland, where assisted suicide has been long established as a legal right, illustrating the truth that once killing is accepted as an acceptable answer to human suffering — which is the bottom line of assisted suicide advocacy — the categories of the killable continue to expand.

It is also worth noting that Ted Goodwin, the head of the FEN, was one of those arrested in Celmer’s assisted suicide. Goodwin is a member in good standing of the assisted suicide Establishment. Indeed, he is so mainstream that he was elected last year to the vice presidency of the World Federation of Right to Die Societies, the international umbrella group that represents the interests of the worldwide euthanasia/assisted suicide movement. Had he not resigned as the police were closing in, he almost surely would have become its president in 2010.

Like the FEN, the World Federation does not advocate limiting assisted suicide to the terminally ill. Indeed, its 2006 “Toronto Manifesto” states:

All competent adults — regardless of their nationalities, professions, religious beliefs, and ethical and political views — who are suffering unbearably from incurable illnesses should have the possibility of various choices at the end of their life. Death is unavoidable. We strongly believe that the manner and time of dying should be left to the decision of the individual, assuming such demands do not result in harm to society other than the sadness associated with death.

The voluntarily expressed will of individuals, once they are fully informed of their diagnosis, prognosis and available means of relief, should be respected by all concerned as an expression of intrinsic human rights.

The World Federation’s Board of Directors made it abundantly clear in the wake of Goodwin’s arrest, that assisted suicide is not meant to be limited to the terminally ill, asserting:

The Board of the World Federation of Right-to-Die Societies supports legal change so that those who are terminally-ill, or suffering greatly from incurable chronic illnesses, can obtain a legitimate way to achieve a dignified, humane death.

I know of only one serious assisted suicide advocacy organization that pretends “death with dignity” is to be limited to the terminally ill. That group is Compassion and Choices, formerly the Hemlock Society. C and C’s leadership is responsible for writing the Oregon and Washington assisted suicide laws that do contain the terminal illness requirement. But there is every reason to believe this limitation is a mere political tactic to gain acceptance by society of the general principle that assisted suicide should be permitted in some cases, since accepting assisted suicide as a legitimate answer to human suffering would unlock the door to an ever-widening practice of assisted suicide — just as it has in every country in which the practice has been legalized.

The activists of Compassion and Choices are a disciplined lot, but even they sometimes let the cat out of the bag. Its legal director Kathryn Tucker recently won a radical court ruling in Montana creating a constitutional right in that state to “die with dignity,” a decision that also freed physicians who assist suicides from the state’s homicide laws. View my full analysis of the ruling at Weekly Standard.

In the wake of the ruling, Tucker announced that she opposed Montana’s legislature creating the kind of rules that as in Oregon and Washington, telling the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, “It’s very unusual that a physician would be governed by a statute telling them how the practice medicine,” she said. “Montana doesn’t need to import these laws,” which, it must be remembered, her own group wrote!

The arrest of Goodwin and other FEN activists has cast a badly needed light on the true goals of the assisted suicide/euthanasia movement. It’s about time. The question of whether a compassionate and moral society should permit facilitation of the deaths of suicidal people — or seek to prevent them in all cases — could not be more important. So let’s drop the pretense that assisted suicide is about the terminally ill and debate the issue honestly. The stakes are too important to do any less.

Wesley J. Smith

Chair and Senior Fellow, Center on Human Exceptionalism
Wesley J. Smith is Chair and Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism. Wesley is a contributor to National Review and is the author of 14 books, in recent years focusing on human dignity, liberty, and equality. Wesley has been recognized as one of America’s premier public intellectuals on bioethics by National Journal and has been honored by the Human Life Foundation as a “Great Defender of Life” for his work against suicide and euthanasia. Wesley’s most recent book is Culture of Death: The Age of “Do Harm” Medicine, a warning about the dangers to patients of the modern bioethics movement.