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Updated Feb 13, 2014 - 5:28 pm

Arizona bill defines assisted suicide for prosecution

PHOENIX — Arizona legislators are considering a bill that aims to make it
easier to prosecute people who help someone commit suicide.

But whether the bill would actually do that depends on whom you ask.

Arizona Rep. Justin Pierce, R-Mesa, said his bill will make it easier for
attorneys to prosecute people for manslaughter for assisting in suicide by more
clearly defining what it means to “assist.”

House Bill 2565 defines assisting in suicide as offering and providing the
physical means used to commit suicide, such as a gun.

The proposal was prompted by a difficult prosecution stemming from a 2007
assisted suicide in Maricopa County.

“Frankly, I think it’s immoral and wrong, and that’s what is motivating me in
this bill,” Pierce said.

A House committee approved the bill 6-2 Thursday.

But an attorney for the Final Exit Network, a national right-to-die group whose
members were involved in a 2007 death that led to a trial in Arizona, said the
bill actually does the opposite of what it intends and would make prosecuting
more difficult.

“I can’t understand what they’re thinking,” Robert Rivas said. “It just
doesn’t add up.”

Arizona prosecutors tried four Final Exit Network members in 2011 in the death
of Jana Van Voorhis, who committed suicide in her Phoenix home on April 15,
2007. Maricopa County prosecutors said Voorhis was not terminally ill at the
time of her death but suffered from mental-health issues and depression.
Authorities initially thought Van Voorhis had died of natural causes, but an
investigation revealed she had been in contact with Final Exit Network members
online and they provided her instructions on how to commit suicide.

Four members were tried for manslaughter. Two pleaded guilty to lower charges,
while another two others were acquitted.

Rebecca Baker, the legislative liaison for the Maricopa County Attorney’s
Office who worked with Pierce on his bill, said juries acquitted those two
members because they did not clearly understand what it means to assist.

“The conclusion we ultimately came to was that we should just have the statute
be more specific,” she said.

But Rivas said the current statute is very clear, and the revised version
narrows the ways in which prosecutors could prove someone committed manslaughter
by assisting in a suicide.

“They’re plainly wrong. They’re not even looking at these words and
understanding what they mean in plain English,” Rivas said.


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