Dr. Lawrence D. Egbert, physician who advocated assisted suicide, dies

Dr. Egbert championed assisted suicide through the Final Exit Network.

Dr. Lawrence Deems Egbert Jr., a physician and anesthesiologist whose medical license was revoked after he championed assisted suicide through the Final Exit Network, died of a heart attack June 9 at his Hampden home. He was 88.

National newspaper articles referred to him as the "New Doctor Death" — a reference to the name first bestowed upon Dr. Jack Kevorkian, an assisted-suicide advocate who was convicted of second-degree murder in 1999 for helping a man end his life.

Dr. Egbert advocated the use of an "exit hood," a device his patients used to asphyxiate themselves with helium. In 2014, Maryland officials stripped him of his medical license.

He said he helped arrange nearly 300 suicides nationwide as an "exit guide" for the right-to-die group Final Exit Network," according to a 2014 article in The Baltimore Sun. Among them were several suicides in Maryland.

"The Maryland Board of Physicians, which conducted a two-year review of his actions in the state, said they were unethical and illegal and revoked his license," the article stated.

Born in Champaign, Ill., he was the son of Lawrence D. Egbert Sr., an international attorney who was present at the post-World War II Nuremberg trials, and Lyn Forsyth, an art professor.

He was raised in Washington and attended Woodrow Wilson High School. He left the school after his junior year, took summer courses and then entered the Johns Hopkins University.

Shortly after the end of World War II, he served in the Army in occupied Japan. After several months in Asia, he returned to Baltimore and completed his undergraduate degree. He graduated from the University of Maryland School of Medicine, then served again in the military as a Navy physician.

He returned to Johns Hopkins and obtained a master's degree from the university's School of Public Health. He also taught anesthesiology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, the Medical College of Virginia and the National Public Health Service in Dallas.

He retired as a professor of anesthesiology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School. He also served at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas.

He published articles about patient care and racism in the New England Journal of Medicine and the Journal of the American Medical Association. He was also a visiting faculty member at Pahlavi University Medical School in Shiraz, Iran, in 1966, and at the American University of Beirut in Lebanon from 1970 to 1972.

Dr. Egbert was active in Unitarian Church circles and was a Unitarian Universalist campus chaplain at Johns Hopkins.

He was an anti-war and anti-nuclear activist, and a member of the board of Physicians for Social Responsibility and a volunteer with Doctors Without Borders. His wife, Ellen Barfield, said he was strongly opposed to the death penalty and was a nationally known expert on lethal injections.

In 1997, he protested the execution of Flint Gregory Hunt, who was convicted of the 1985 murder of Baltimore police Officer Vincent Adolfo.

News articles said Dr. Egbert rode his bicycle to the prison nightly to participate in demonstrations. "'Frankly, from the sound of it, I wouldn't want him [Hunt] walking up to me right now," Dr. Egbert told The Sun in 1997. "He sounds like he could be very nasty. But the bottom line is, I don't like killing people."

He became medical director of the Final Exit Network, a national organization that uses the terms "hastened death" or "dignified death" for what others call assisted suicide.

"It is an organization that provides education and compassionate presence to those facing end-of-life choices," said his wife. "He had a long and complex life. Personally, he was soft-spoken and gentle, but he was firm as could be, standing up for justice and advocating for people suffering in various ways."

He became the subject of local and national news coverage.

"From a cluttered Baltimore apartment office, Dr. Lawrence Egbert says he has helped direct the deaths of nearly 300 people across the country," said a 2011 Sun article. "Some of his patients, as he calls them, are racked with cancer, paralyzed or staring down Alzheimer's. Others simply want to slip away on their own terms. Sometimes family members gather around the bedside to say goodbye; in other cases, their appointed 'exit guides' lock the door behind them and make arrangements for someone to stumble across the body."

The article noted that Newsweek magazine had dubbed him "the New Doctor Death" after he was criminally charged in two states for his role with the Final Exit Network. He was acquitted of manslaughter in Arizona, and charges against him in Georgia were dropped.

In 2015, Final Exit Network was convicted in Minnesota of assisting in a suicide, but Dr. Egbert was granted immunity for testifying in the case.

Dr. Egbert lived in a Hampden rowhouse. He did not own a car and chose not to use a cellphone. He traveled by bicycle until he gave it up a year ago. He was a patron of the Hampden branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library.

"He played the violin — never very well — but he enjoyed it," said his wife. "He played classical music, but also liked bluegrass and folk."

He was a member of the Geud Band, group that performed music of the 17th century.

Plans for an Aug. 27 memorial service are incomplete.

In addition to his wife of more than 25 years, who is an activist in the anti-war and anti-fracking movements, survivors include three sons, Dave Egbert of Parkville, James Egbert of Eureka, Calif., and Ben Egbert of Dallas; two daughters, Louise Egbert Treitman of Lexington, Mass., and Ruth Egbert Walker of Stillwater, Okla.; nine grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. He is also survived by his former wife, Dorothy Staples Egbert. His second wife, Marcelle Hechemy Egbert, died in 1999.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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