The Georgia Supreme Court held yesterday that a law banning advertisements for assisted suicide services violates the constitutionally protected right to freedom of speech. The case stemmed from the arrest of members of the Final Exit Network in 2009. Four members of the group were charged with assisting in the suicide of a cancer patient. The members were arrested after they were approached by an undercover GBI investigator posing as someone in need of assisted suicide. According to the testimony of the investigator, as his suicide date was approaching, Ted Goodwin (former President of the group), "walked the agent through the steps and demonstrated how he would hold the agent's hands to stop him from removing the 'exit bag'." The exit bag is a devise used by the group to aid in the suicide.
Once the group members were arrested, they immediately challenged the law's constitutionality arguing that it violated their rights of freedom of speech. Specifically, they argued that the law prescribed punishment for those people involved in assisted suicide only if they spoke publicly about it. The GA Supreme Court agreed. They reasoned that the law does not prohibit the act of assisting in suicide, rather it only prohibits advertising or promoting assisted suicide. This is an obvious ban on a particular type of speech; the very thing the First Amendment is supposed to prevent. The Court stated in part,
"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 rights."
The Court further suggested that if the State has an interest in the preservation of human life, they would propose legislation which prohibited the act of assisted suicide rather than prohibiting the public speech. Sources believe that the General Assembly is preparing to consider legislation that prohibits assisted suicide within the next term.