Georgia’s high court unanimously decided to strike down the state’s ban on advertising suicide but it did not decide that assisted suicide could not prohibited and it did not decide that the state could not ban suicide counseling or all communication for the purpose of assisting suicide.
Georgia’s high court did unanimously decide to strike down a law that the state passed in 1994 to prevent a person like Jack Kevorkian, from going to Georgia to promote assisted suicide. The law had banned advertising suicide, and the court stated that this was an infringement on the “free speech” of the four members of the Final Exit Network who were charged in the 2008 death of John Celmer, a man who was in remission from cancer, but who was experiencing significant depression. The Final Exit Network is a suicide assistance club who have been involved in the suicide deaths of hundreds of people throughout the United States.
The story of John Celmer reinforces how a person who is living with depression can be influenced by others and die by assisted suicide. He was in remission from cancer and was awaiting reconstructive surgery on his face. Celmer’s wife stated soon after the arrest of the four Final Exit Network members that:
“His physical condition was curable. Any depression he had was treatable, and death is not.”
Stephen Drake, the research analyst for the disability rights group, Not Dead Yet, referred to this decision in this way:
At least in the short term, this is a victory for the Final Exit Network. But it’s not an exoneration.
What the court decision really includes is a harsh condemnation of the Georgia legislators for putting together a sloppy statute covering assisted suicide.
The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported on the decision by writing:
The state Supreme Court said Georgia’s law is unconstitutional because it does not prohibit all assisted suicides and, instead, criminalizes only those in which someone advertises or offers to assist in a suicide and then takes steps to help carry it out.
“The State has failed to provide any explanation or evidence as to why a public advertisement or offer to assist in an otherwise legal activity is sufficiently problematic to justify an intrusion on protected speech rights,” Justice Hugh Thompson wrote for the court.
“Had the state truly been interested in the preservation of human life .... it could have imposed a ban on all assisted suicides with no restriction on protected speech whatsoever,” Thompson wrote. “Alternatively, the state could have sought to prohibit all offers to assist in suicide when accompanied by an overt act to accomplish that goal. The state here did neither.”
The article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution then quoted Forsyth District Attorney Penny Penn:
...if the law had survived the constitutional challenge, she was confident she could have won convictions against the four defendants for Cellner’s suicide.
“They behave irresponsibly and prey on people who are vulnerable,” Penn said. “John Celmer wasn’t terminally ill. He had cancer, but it was in remission.”
Penn noted that another key provision of the law that makes it a crime to prey on someone’s fears, affections or sympathies to get them to commit suicide is still on the books. But she called on state lawmakers to try once again to write a new statute that criminalizes the work of organizations like the Final Exit Network.
“They weren’t discouraged or deterred when there were laws in place, so think what they’ll do now,” Penn said.
Drake concludes his commentary by stating:
Right now, Georgia legislators have a choice. They can draft a law that proves they believe that all suicides are preventable tragedies. Or they can just let the open season on despairing people contemplating suicide stand.
Ted Goodwin, the former leader of the Final Exit Network, is also the past Vice-President of the World Federation of Right to Die Societies. In an article that was published in the Associated Press in March 2009, Goodwin defends assisted suicide for people with disabilities.
The article in the Washington Post today reported that:
The decision left open a route for state lawmakers to explicitly outlaw all assisted suicides, as long as the law doesn’t infringe on free speech rights. Legislative leaders haven’t ruled out introducing legislation that would do just that, and the Georgia Attorney General’s office said it’s ready to help lawmakers if they bring forward legislation in response to the ruling.
The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition expects that the Georgia legislature will bring forth a bill to ban assisted suicide. Many Georgia citizens will need to demand that their elected representative votes in favor of a complete and total ban to assisted suicide.