- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 28, 2009

ATLANTA | Members of an assisted-suicide ring are acting as if they are eager for a court battle over criminal charges they helped a Georgia man kill himself.

Four members of the Final Exit Network were arrested Wednesday on charges they violated Georgia’s assisted-suicide laws by helping 58-year-old John Celmer use helium and an exit bag — a plastic hood with tubing attached — to suffocate himself.

Network president Thomas E. Goodwin and member Claire Blehr, both arrested in metro Atlanta, were released from jail late Thursday. Mr. Goodwin’s attorney, Cynthia Counts, said she was confident her client “will be vindicated.”

In Baltimore on Friday, Dr. Lawrence D. Egbert and Nicholas Alex Sheridan smiled and waved to supporters before asking a judge to release them on bond so they could travel to Georgia to face charges. The judge later agreed to the release, and their attorney said they were expected to travel to Georgia over the weekend.

“These are not people who are running from justice,” said Michael Kaminkow, an attorney for the two men. “These are people who want justice.”

Jerry Dincin, a Chicago clinical psychologist who was named the group’s president after Mr. Goodwin’s arrest, said Friday that people who approach the group for help are asked repeatedly in the days leading up to the suicide — often more than 10 times — if they are sure they want to kill themselves.

“If this case goes to court, we’ll be dealing with the notion of what is ‘assistance,’” Mr. Dincin said. “If we point somebody to a book, maybe that’s considered assistance in the courts. But we don’t think so.”

The four also were charged with tampering with evidence and violating anti-racketeering laws. People convicted of assisting in suicide in Georgia can be sentenced to up to five years.

Georgia Bureau of Investigation spokesman John Bankhead says the organization may have been involved in as many as 200 other deaths around the country since it began in 2004.

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