updated 2/25/2009 7:57:44 PM ET 2009-02-26T00:57:44

Four members of an alleged assisted suicide ring were charged Wednesday with helping a 58-year-old north Georgia man end his life, authorities said.

Investigators in eight other states are also looking into the Final Exit Network, an organization whose Web site said it is "dedicated to serving people who are suffering from an intolerable condition."

Group members Claire Blehr, 76, and Thomas E. Goodwin, 63, were both arrested Wednesday at a home in the northern part of the state after a sting operation in which an undercover agent posed as a member of the group, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation said.

Maryland authorities arrested Dr. Lawrence D. Egbert, 81, of Baltimore. A fourth suspect, Nicholas Alec Sheridan, also of Baltimore, has been charged but remains at large.

The four group members were charged with assisted suicide, tampering with evidence and a violation of Georgia's anti-racketeering act.

Their charges stem from a man's death in June 2008 after he inhaled helium in an assisted suicide in Cumming, about 35 miles north of Atlanta, GBI spokesman John Bankhead said. The man's name wasn't released.

Search warrants in states
Meanwhile, authorities were executing search warrants in Florida, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio, Missouri, Colorado, and Montana as part of the investigation, the GBI said. Arizona authorities also planned to release details of an investigation at a news conference Wednesday.

Bankhead said new members of the group pay a $50 fee and are vetted through an application process. Then each is assigned to an "exit guide" who instructs them to purchase two new helium tanks and a hood, known as an "exit bag."

When they are ready to commit suicide, Bankhead said, the member is visited by the "exit guide" and a "senior exit guide" to lead them through the process.

Jerry Dincin, a clinical psychologist who is the group's vice president, said the network started in 2004 and now counts more than 3,000 dues-paying members. He called the arrests "ridiculous."

"That's the epitome of stupidity, I think. And the epitome of stupidity can extend further. Who knows?"

The organization's Web site doesn't shy from its mission of "self deliverance."

"We applaud the work of organizations that seek legislative action to strengthen our right to die a peaceful and painless death at the time and place of our choosing," reads the site.

"However, we feel that legislative change will not come soon enough for the many people who need help now and in the interim!"

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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