Newsweek has called 83-year-old Lawrence Egbert “the new Doctor Death”. By his own admission, he has ushered nearly 300 Americans through the portals of death across the country as medical director of a group called Final Exit Network. Last month he was acquitted of involvement in the death of a woman in Phoenix who inhaled helium. With that behind him, he agreed to be interviewed by the Baltimore Sun.
Newsweek has called 83-year-old Lawrence Egbert
“the new Doctor Death”. By his own admission, he has ushered nearly 300 Americans
through the portals of death across the country as medical director of a group called
Final Exit Network. Last month he was acquitted of involvement in the death of a
woman in Phoenix who inhaled helium. With that behind him, he agreed to be interviewed
As a result of the publicity given to Dr Egbert’s
work, he has lost his job at a lecturer in Johns Hopkins Medical School and is no
longer a minister at the university’s Unitarian chapel. But he has no regrets. “I
never thought of myself as having done anything that I should feel guilty of,”
he declared. “I don’t feel any conflict about helping someone stop suffering.”
As FEN’s medical director, Egbert assesses requests
made by people who want to die. He approves about 95% of them, even though some
(including the woman in Phoenix) are not suffering from a terminal illness.
“We basically start with the idea that
if a person wants to commit suicide, that is a reasonable statement, given their
psychological state now,” he said. “Whether you can do something about
that, or should, is a whole other debate.”
FEN provides “exit guides” who supply advice
and the wherewithal for inhaling helium until death from asphyxiation. “To
be part of the process that makes that possible to do — with considerable dignity
— that’s beautiful,” says Egbert. He has been present at nearly 100 deaths.
Egbert is currently being prosecuted over another
death in Georgia. His defense team is arguing that counselling for suicide is protected
First Amendment speech.
The Baltimore Sun coaxed Egbert into relating
his own brush with assisted suicide:
“Egbert, who rides a bicycle, fell and broke
his pelvis in late 2009, causing terrible pain. It took a month before he could
climb the steep, three-story staircase to his office. He said he decided he was
ready. ‘My wife got terribly upset when I said, “I don’t want to do this anymore,
let’s get a tank of helium and get this over with,”’ he recalls.
“So he stuck it out. These days, he appears
to be in fine shape and climbs the stairs to his office with no apparent restrictions.
Did the experience give him pause, that perhaps he’d helped hasten the death of
others who could’ve gone on to live healthy, productive lives? Egbert says no. ‘The
answer is, it goes back to respecting the person at the time,’ he says.”
Final Exit Network
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