Georgia Supreme Court Throws Out Law Banning Assisted Suicide Advertising

A Georgia (STOGA1) law barring the advertisement of services related to assisted suicide is an unconstitutional violation of free-speech rights, the state’s supreme court ruled.

The statute didn’t outlaw assisted suicide in Georgia, where there is no law against the practice, the court said in today’s 7-0 ruling. The legislation makes it a crime to publicly offer help to those who want to end their lives, the court said. The law doesn’t bar all offers to help, only those that were publicly advertised, which violates the free-speech guarantees in the Georgia and U.S. constitutions, the court ruled.

“The state has failed to provide any explanation or evidence as to why a public advertisement or offer to assist in an otherwise legal activity is sufficiently problematic to justify an intrusion on protected speech,” the court said.

The court said that the legislature could have outlawed assisted suicide or all offers to help commit it.

“The state here did neither,” the justices said.

The case stemmed from the 2010 prosecution of Dr. Lawrence Egbert, medical director for Final Exit Network Inc., and three others affiliated with the group for helping John Celmar, who had cancer, kill himself in 2008 at his home north of Atlanta.

Thirty-nine states have enacted laws that criminalize assisted suicide, according to the Patients Rights Council. Oregon and Washington have passed “Death with Dignity” statutes deeming physician-assisted suicide a medical treatment under some circumstances. Otherwise, it’s illegal in those two states, too, according to the Patients Rights Council, a Steubenville, Ohio-based euthanasia-information group.

A phone call to Pennington, New Jersey-based Final Exit wasn’t immediately returned.

The case is Final Exit Network Inc. v. State of Georgia, S11A1960, Supreme Court of Georgia (Atlanta).

To contact the reporter on this story: Ann Woolner in Atlanta at awoolner@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net

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