​Maryland doctor loses license after 6th assisted suicide in state

AFP Photo/Brendan Smialowski
A doctor in Maryland who has admitted to arranging almost 300 assisted suicides has had his medical license revoked by the Maryland Board of Physicians.

In Maryland specifically, the board claims Dr. Lawrence D. Egbert helped six patients end their lives unethically and illegally, the Baltimore Sun reported. Following a two-year review of his behavior, the board found that Egbert also tried to cover up the assisted suicides, which were conducted through the Final Exit Network – an organization that aims to help those who suffer from “fatal or irreversible physical illness,” among other things, commit suicide.

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Although the age of Egbert’s patients spanned from 68 to 87 years old, they were not terminally ill. By helping them end their lives, Egbert was found to have participated in unprofessional conduct. His actions were in violation of the ethics outlined by the American Medical Association, as well as the state laws in Maryland.

Assisted suicide has been legalized in three states – Oregon, Washington, and Vermont – but it’s still illegal in Maryland.

While working as a medical director and “exit guide” for the Final Exit Network, Egbert helped six patients kill themselves between 2004 and 2008. Egbert’s apparently screened patients to ensure they were proper candidates for assisted suicide. Once accepted, they were reportedly sent books describing how to commit suicide – patients were directed to place hoods over their heads and fill them with helium.

“Dr. Egbert reviewed their applications and medical records and recommended accepting them as members,” said the board’s order, as quoted by the New York Times. “Dr. Egbert attended their suicide rehearsals. He held each member’s hand and talked to him or her.”

According to the state, Egbert’s patients died from asphyxiation. One 85-year-old woman wanted to take her life in order to leave trust money for her son, while others suffered from Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis, among other diseases.

Once the patient suicides were over, the board stated that exit guides removed the material involved in order “to prevent the cause of death from being determined … and to hinder police investigations into the circumstances of the death."

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For his part, Egbert said that while the group recommended patients read the books, the group did not send them over. Egbert added that family members sometimes removed the suicide materials, and that the process was meant to safeguard privacy, not keep law enforcement at bay.

He also defended himself to the Times and said he would appeal the board’s decision.

“What we’re doing should be available to any patient with an incurable, horrible disease that they’ve tried everything on, and it doesn’t seem to work,” he told the newspaper.

Others, such as Stephen Drake of the group Not Dead Yet, which lobbies on behalf of those with disabilities and the elderly, welcomed the ruling.

"Revocation of his medical license is a good thing and long overdue," he told the Sun.