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HASTINGS, Minn. (AP) — The former president of a national right-to-die group on trial for allegedly assisting in the suicide of a Minnesota woman testified Monday that members of Final Exit Network do not assist in suicides and the group agrees to support someone during a "self deliverance" only when that person is suffering from unbearable pain and meets other criteria.
Thomas Goodwin's testimony came in a Minnesota trial for Final Exit Network Inc., which is charged with a felony count of assisting in the suicide of Doreen Dunn, a 57-year-old woman who had lived with chronic pain for about a decade. The group is also charged with interfering with a death scene.
Goodwin testified that "exit guides" would sometimes provide information on where someone could obtain equipment to commit suicide and even have a rehearsal to show someone how to properly set up the gear. But he said the group's founders were aware of various assisted-suicide laws and "would push the envelope" but were careful to "stay within the law as we knew it."
To convict the group, prosecutors must prove Dunn took her life with its help. In Minnesota, that can include speech, provided it's aimed at giving a specific person instructions on how to end his or her life. If convicted, the group faces a maximum fine of $33,000.
Dakota County prosecutor Elizabeth Swank told jurors that two members of Final Exit Network went to Dunn's home in Apple Valley, helped her commit suicide, then removed equipment she used to inhale helium to asphyxiate herself so that it appeared she had died of natural causes.
Dunn's husband testified about arriving home on May 30, 2007, to find her dead on the couch.
"She was too still, and she was very pale," Mark Dunn said. "I touched her ... and I knew she was gone."
Defense attorney Robert Rivas acknowledged that Jerry Dincin and Dr. Larry Egbert sat with Dunn as she died. But he said the state has no proof the men assisted in her death.
Dincin has died and a criminal case against him was dismissed; Egbert is charged but has been offered immunity for his testimony against the group, which is incorporated in Georgia.
Rivas said the group supports the right of people to choose to die when they reasonably believe their time has come and believes a person shouldn't have to die alone.
Goodwin testified about policies that were in place when he was president, from 2004 through 2009. He said people approved for exit services had to be dying or on a "dying trajectory" and that key to approval was "when you were suffering more than you could bear."
The person had to obtain and set up the equipment for helium asphyxiation independently. Goodwin also testified that exit guides would get rid of the equipment after the death.
Asked if a guide ever helped someone set up equipment, Goodwin said no, adding that if a person couldn't do it, "you walk away — with regret — but you walk away."
Mark Dunn testified that his wife's health and emotional state deteriorated after she had a negative reaction to a medical procedure about a decade earlier. She couldn't open jars or medicine bottles, had trouble raising her hands over her head and couldn't lift anything heavier than a book. Dunn said his wife spent her days lying on the couch in the dark. She had talked about ending her life, but he was against it.
Dunn read a letter that his wife wrote to Final Exit Network in 2007, saying she was in excruciating pain.
"I can't get away from the pain," the letter said.
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