Portland man shares a look into the world of an 'Exit Guide'


It's illegal to take another person's life, but is it against the law to help someone plan their own death and sit with them as they commit suicide?

One Portland man is doing just that as a so called Exit Guide.

The Death with Dignity Act allows terminally ill Oregonians to end their own life through the self-administration of medically prescribed drugs. But, prosecutors say assisting someone in a suicide is considered second degree manslaughter by Oregon law.

That's why Peter Vennewitz says he carefully walks the line somewhere in-between.

"I'm sure there are people who think Exit Guides like me are murderers, or that we are in league with the devil," said Peter Vennewitz.

Vennewitz is a member of the Final Exit Network. A group of volunteers who span the country and call themselves Exit Guides. Vennewitz lives in Portland, but will travel all across the region to guide people through their own deaths.

"I've officially been a part of 4 [deaths] with the Final Exit Network, but I've also helped both my mother and father when they chose to die," said Vennewitz.

Though he has no criminal record.

"We're not assisting in suicide we're providing information and support," said Vennewitz.

Exit Guides are largely protective of their process and generally hate being compared to people like Jack Kevorkian. Vennewitz says that's because guides don't physically carry out a death, or supply clients with any materials to kill themselves.

Instead, they simply teach clients what to do and sit by their side as they do it.

"People have to make a hood and pull it down over their head," said Vennewitz. "The process involves a person breathing in nitrogen and in a matter of seconds they're unconscious and in 20 to 30 minutes, they'll be dead. No one I've ever dealt with has changed their mind. Even after the equipment is set up, the last thing we say is, 'are you sure this is what you want to do, you know if you do this that you're going to die,' and the person has to say yes."

The Death with Dignity Act allows terminally-ill Oregonians to end their lives through the voluntary self-administration of lethal medications, prescribed by a physician for that purpose. But, not everyone qualifies for those drugs under the act.

"We will work with people who don't meet the legal requirements to use the physician and dying laws," said Vennewitz.

The network touts itself as being the only organization in the states to help people die who are not terminally ill. Though it's not an easy feat to get someone like Vennewitz at your door. He says a client must first call a hotline and go through a rather rigorous process, including handing over medical records to the network's evaluation committee, which ultimately makes the final decision to meet with someone.

"The biggest percentage of people have Cancer there's a significant percentage that have a cluster of health issues that make life no longer feel like it's worth living," he said.

Lawsuits brought against Exit Guides in Georgia, Arizona and Minnesota call into question the legality of what the group is doing. Some believe the group is facilitating murder.

Though, Vennewitz believes they're doing nothing illegal because they're merely providing information and support to a client. He says that's protected by freedom of speech.

Vennewitz won't say who his clients are. In some cases their own families don't even know he was present for their deaths at all.

"It's really sad and I usually feel like crying, but I don't because that's wouldn't be appropriate," he added.

Often times, he says the only clue of the network's involvement is a copy of Derek Humphry's book, Final Exit, left behind on nightstand. Right next to a client's note explaining the decision to end life on his, or her own terms.

"The say the greatest gift of charity you can give someone is to help them have a good death, so that's how I look at what I'm doing," said Vennewitz.

FOX 12 checked in with police and prosecutors across the Portland Metro area to see what their thoughts are about the Final Exit Network. No one we spoke with had heard of the group and no one wanted to speak on the record about the organization.

Investigators told FOX 12 if someone's family had any concerns about the group's involvement in a death that is something they would look into.

Copyright 2016 KPTV-KPDX Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.


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