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HASTINGS, Minnesota (AP) — The right-to-die group Final Exit Network Inc. was convicted Thursday of assisting in the suicide of a Minnesota woman who took her life in 2007 after years of suffering with chronic pain.
Jurors also found the group guilty of a lesser charge of interfering with a death scene. The group faces a maximum fine of $33,000. Sentencing has been set for August.
Final Exit Network was charged in the death of Doreen Dunn, 57, who had been living with intense pain for more than a decade after she had a bad reaction to a medical procedure.
Prosecutors argued at trial that Dunn didn't know how to take her life until agents of Final Exit Network provided her with a "blueprint" to do so.
Defense attorney Robert Rivas had argued that there was no evidence that Final Exit Network did anything illegal, and the group is careful to stay within constitutionally protected speech. He argued that the group provides people who choose to end their lives with emotional and philosophical support.
To convict the group, jurors had to find that agents of Final Exit Network intentionally assisted Dunn in taking her life. In Minnesota, that assistance can include physical conduct or speech, provided the speech is aimed at giving a specific person instructions on how to end his or her life. Speech isn't considered assisting if someone is just sharing a viewpoint or providing support.
Former Final Exit Network president and founder Thomas Goodwin testified that the group agrees to support someone during a "self-deliverance" only when that person is suffering from unbearable pain and meets other criteria.
Goodwin testified that "exit guides" would sometimes provide information on where people could obtain equipment to take their own lives by helium asphyxiation 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."
The Minnesota decision isn't binding in other states, but Rivas has said the outcome could influence whether or not prosecutors decide to pursue charges elsewhere.
Five states allow patients to seek aid in dying: Oregon, Washington, Montana, Vermont and New Mexico.
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