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Suicide group's manual urges celebrations

/ Source: The Associated Press

A training manual for an assisted-suicide group tells "exit guides" that they are special people and should celebrate their role in guiding others to their deaths.

The lengthy document, referred to by police in the U.S. city of Phoenix as a training manual for the Final Exit Network, offers exit guides step-by-step instructions on how to show others how to kill themselves by breathing in helium. Guides also are told how to dispose of the equipment used in the death and position the bodies so they look like they died of natural causes.

The manual encourages the guides, telling them they are compassionately guiding suffering people to their deaths during "a special time."

The Georgia-based group's manual is included in a Phoenix police report obtained by The Associated Press. The police seized the manual at the home of an admitted exit guide during their investigation into the death of a Phoenix woman who committed suicide with the group's help.

Final Exit Network members say they offer a painless and compassionate way for people in pain to end their lives by showing them how to suffocate themselves using helium tanks and a plastic hood. Critics call it murder.

Four of the network's members were arrested by Georgia authorities in February after an eight-month investigation in which an undercover agent infiltrated the group. They face charges of assisted suicide, tampering with evidence and violating Georgia's anti-racketeering act.

The training manual provides a detailed, behind-the-scenes look at how the network operated. It was written for what the network called "first responders," or the first to speak to those seeking help committing suicide.

"You, as the first responder, are a special person," the manual says. "You all were attracted to this program because of a compassionate interest ... Sometimes that means to 'hear' a desperation that the member does not know how to communicate and softly voice it for them."

'A sense of celebration'

The manual tells guides that if they've planned carefully, they can "anticipate this special day with a sense of peace and celebration."

"If this is your first case, you no doubt will be nervous from the responsibility, but you can try to keep a sense of celebration about the proceedings to come," the manual says.

After a member has killed him or herself in the presence of two exit guides, the guides "usually go to a restaurant to quietly celebrate."

"They had just ushered a suffering member through a peaceful exit. They have done this ethically and legally," the manual says. "They can now let down and talk about their own feelings and anything else about the situation they want to."

When read quotes from the document, Final Exit's new president (the former president was one of those arrested) said it sounded like the group's manual and later said he was sure it was because he doubted the police would make it up.

But when faxed a copy of it, Jerry Dincin of Chicago declined to read through it and said he would not verify whether it was Final Exit's, adding that he didn't "know what has been inserted possibly in it."

Earlier, Dincin commented on specific wording in the manual, saying it talks about "celebrating" someone's final exit in an empathetic and compassionate way.

"It's certainly not to have a good time," he said. "It's a very deep experience to be with somebody when they move from living to dying, and not very many people have that experience. To me, it is compassionate in its deepest and most wonderful sense."

He said that the training manual is a compilation of writing from various group members over the years and are to ensure exit guides know the rules.

Stephen Drake of the Rochester, New York-based group Not Dead Yet, which is against assisted suicide, compared Final Exit Network and the wording in its training manual to a cult and said it's hard to distinguish what the group does from murder.

"What they do is reduce ambivalence," he said. "I submit that anybody whose conditions for committing suicide is that they have to have someone around them to make sure that they don't screw it up and they're not alone is ambivalent. There are lots of people who want to commit suicide and they just do it."

Dincin said his group doesn't talk anyone into killing themselves, but acts as a "compassionate presence."

Group suspended activity for now

Final Exit has suspended assisted suicides for now. Its last one was mid-February, but the group is still accepting applications, Dincin said.

Final Exit assisted people with terminal illnesses, but also considered people with psychiatric conditions — including bipolar disorder or depression — provided they had lived with the condition for a long time and tried "every remedy with no improvement," according to the guide. They also accepted early cases of Alzheimer's with a documented diagnosis and non-terminal conditions if the person's pain was intolerable, according to the manual.

But authorities have questioned how carefully the network screens people. The four members who were arrested by Georgia authorities are charged in the death of a 58-year-old man who doctors said had made a "remarkable recovery" from cancer but may have been embarrassed about the way he looked after jaw surgery.

Arizona authorities also are investigating the group in the death of Phoenix resident Jana Van Voorhis, whose doctors later told investigators that she did not suffer from a serious illness, but had mental problems.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation says the group may have helped 200 people around the nation commit suicide.

Dincin said Final Exit is "leading the way in a new human right for the 21st century," like the civil rights movement, women's suffrage and the fight for gay rights.

"And that human right is that your life is your own, and when your life is intolerable because of medical circumstances, you have the right to hasten the end," he said.