FFRF brief in Minnesota case supports death with dignity and free speech

The Freedom From Religion Foundation yesterday filed a friend of the court brief in defense of free speech in an ongoing case regarding Minnesota’s assisted suicide law.

The brief was filed before the State of Minnesota Court of Appeals in support of the Final Exit Network, convicted in May 2015 of the felony of assisting a suicide.

The state/church watchdog, based in Madison, Wis., represents 23,700 nonreligious members nationwide, including more than 500 in Minnesota.

In 2014, the Minnesota State Supreme Court ruled that although a state law forbidding “advising or encouraging suicide” was unconstitutional, it’s illegal to assist such an act physically or even through speech. Final Exit was found guilty of abetting the 2007 suicide of Doreen Dunn in Dakota County, Minn. Dunn, 57, said she was “living with unbearable, excruciating” pain for 10 years after a medical procedure, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

The county argued that the Final Exit Network gave Dunn information that “enabled” her to end her life. FFRF challenges this line of argument.

“The suppression of sharing information on this subject has a direct impact on freethinkers and others who support the rights of individuals to make end of life decisions free from religious dogma,” FFRF’s brief asserts. “When speakers on end of life matters are silenced, the constitutional rights of those who are dying or suffering from chronic and incurable pain are also impacted.”

The Minnesota statute applied in the case “will have a chilling effect on speech because it is impossible to discern what speech is permitted under the law,” FFRF adds.

FFRF’s brief also discusses the prosecution of a Pennsylvania member of FFRF, Barbara Mancini, for handing her gravely ill 93-year-old father his prescribed liquid morphine pain medication upon request.

“What followed could best be described as a nightmare,” FFRF writes. “The hospice provider took extraordinary measures to prolong his life. As Barbara explained, ‘Instead of having the peaceful and dignified death at home that he hoped for, he died after prolonged suffering and being subjected to exactly the medical treatment that he specified in his written advance directives that he never wanted.'”

Mancini was prosecuted for a year until the charges were ultimately dismissed. She had a gag order imposed on her, was put on unpaid leave from her job, and incurred more than $100,000 in legal fees. (Read Barbara Mancini’s speech at the FFRF 2014 national convention.)

In filing its brief, FFRF wants to ensure that other individuals are not subjected to the same ordeal.

“The broad interpretation of Minn. Stat. § 609.215(1) impacts daughters, sons, husbands, wives, and other loved ones who would seek to speak, or receive speech, about the issue of hastening death,” it states in its brief. The organization is asking for the court to rule that the law, as applied to speech, violates the First Amendment and to also overturn the conviction of the Final Exit Network.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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