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Georgia high court overturns assisted suicide law

The Supreme Court of Georgia [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] unanimously Monday that the state's assisted suicide [JURIST news archive] law [§16-5-5 text] violated the First Amendment [text] right to free speech, essentially ruling in favor of four members of Final Exit [advocacy website] charged in 2009. Defendants Ted Goodwin, Claire Blehr, Lawrence Egbert and Nicholas Alec Sheriden were arrested for allegedly violating that law by running an assisted death operation. They pleaded not guilty and the Supreme Court of Georgia reviewed [JURIST report] the law last November. Georgia law does not explicitly forbid assisted suicide but does ban individuals from publicly advertising suicide. The opinion states that Georgia legislatures could have imposed a ban to all assisted suicide or offers followed by action that would not have infringed on the right to free speech. The court said, "[i]t is not all assisted suicides which are criminalized but only those which include a public advertisement or offer to assist. This distinction takes the statute out of the realm of content neutral regulations and renders it a selective restraint on speech with a particular content." The charges against the four defendants were dismissed. State attorneys are reviewing the order and opponents said they are concerned it will open the state to more assisted suicides [AP report].

In 2009, a sharply divided Montana Supreme Court [official website] ruled [JURIST report] that physician assisted suicide is not banned by state law, making Montana the third state to allow the practice after Oregon and Washington. The court upheld in part and reversed in part a lower court ruling, agreeing with its finding that physician assisted suicide is not illegal under state law, but giving no opinion on the greater constitutional question addressed by the lower court. Instead, it found in a 4-3 decision that physician assisted suicide was not rendered illegal under state statute or by public policy concerns.

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Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

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