In Memoriam

Jerry Dincin

Right To Die Advocate Jerry Dincin Awaits His Own Exit
Chicago Magazine, August 2012. A wonderful and powerful portrait of Jerry. “Dincin is far from the typical North Shore retiree. He is one of the nation’s most prominent right-to-die advocates. From 2009 to 2011, he was president of the Final Exit Network, a controversial nonprofit group that aims to help the terminally ill and those suffering from unbearable pain who want to choose when their lives end. He says that he has been present with 14 such people … Dincin calls the right to die “the ultimate civil right.”

Jerry Dincin, Right-To-Die Advocate, Has died
Chicago Magazine online, March 26, 2013.

Jerry Dincin, 1930-2013: At Thresholds, He Found Housing and Jobs For Mentally Ill
Chicago Tribune, March 29, 2013

Jerry Dincin, a leader for death-with-dignity, loses cancer battle: “End-of-life liberty is the ultimate civil right”
originally published on the Hemlock of Illinois website, March 26, 2013

The death with dignity movement has lost a great national leader. Jerry Dincin, Ph.D., died at age 82 on March 26, 2013, after a long battle with prostate cancer. He served as President of Final Exit Network from 2009 through 2012. Before becoming active in the movement, he had a long career as a major innovator in the field of psychiatric rehabilitation.

Dr. Dincin was diagnosed with cancer In 2001, only a few weeks after marrying Suzanne Streicker. “I wasn’t prepared to die, and I didn’t like my attitude about death and dying. Our culture avoids the subject and treats it like a taboo, which is unfortunate,” said Dr. Dincin. So, in 2004, he attended a workshop about death and dying at a Buddhist monastery led by Joan Halifax. “The workshop changed my attitude and made death feel more natural.”

The following year in 2005, he became active in Final Exit Network (FEN), a national organization whose purpose is to obtain the basic human right of competent adults to end their lives on their own terms if they are suffering from irreversible illness or intractable pain and no longer want to live.

“I still had energy, so I became a board member and an exit guide right away. I was an exit guide fourteen times, and I never did anything but be there as a witness.” Dr. Dincin said that being an exit guide was the deepest and most humane experience he had ever had. “It was ethically, morally, politically correct. I felt like I was giving the biggest gift possible to a fellow human who was suffering deeply – the gift of your compassionate presence. Most people have a fear of dying alone with no one to comfort them.”

Then in February 2009, four volunteer members of Final Exit Network were arrested and charged with felony crimes of “assisting in a suicide” in Georgia. The organization’s bank accounts were seized. Then a second case hit, when authorities in Phoenix, Arizona, brought similar felony charges against three other FEN volunteers and its medical director, Dr. Larry Egbert, who had been charged in Georgia.

Dr. Dincin had become president of Final Exit Network a week before the Georgia arrests happened. He rallied the organization and raised new funds to mount legal defenses for its volunteers. “The legal assault began on practically the first day Jerry took over as president,” said Florida lawyer Robert Rivas, who is FEN’s general counsel. “Thanks to Jerry’s leadership and resolve, the prosecutions in Arizona and Georgia were a complete failure, and FEN is thriving.”

All the Georgia charges were dismissed after the Georgia Supreme Court found the Georgia statute on “assisting in a suicide” to be unconstitutional. Ultimately, the Arizona prosecutions failed also.

At the time of his death, Dr. Dincin and two other volunteers for Final Exit Network were under indictment on charges stemming from the 2007 Minnesota case of Doreen N. Dunn. Dr. Dincin had served as an exit guide for Ms. Dunn. “We did nothing wrong, ethically or legally. We ­never assist. Dunn suffered from horrible constant pain throughout her body, and I am convinced she did the right thing,” said Dr. Dincin.

“How can it be illegal to offer comfort and compassion to a person who is dying? The Minnesota case is just another battle in the war we are fighting to grant people this basic civil right – the right to control your own life and death,” said Dr. Dincin shortly before his death. “It is as important a right as racial or gender civil rights – or the right to abortion or to vote. I know that we will be victorious because people should be able to choose how they die and to receive help with their decision.”

In addition to his work with Final Exit Network, Dr. Dincin also served as a Board Member and as Vice President of Hemlock of Illinois for a number of years.

Dr. Dincin was born August 20, 1930 in Brooklyn, New York. Though he was only 16 when his father died in 1947, he and his mother took over the father’s furniture business, but he knew it wasn’t the right career for him. Dr. Dincin received a Bachelor’s Degree from Brooklyn College and a Master’s Degree in Sociology at Case Western Reserve in Ohio in 1955, but continued in the family business to help his mother.

In June 1958, he began work at New York City’s highly innovative Fountain House, a community-based, psychiatric rehabilitation center led by John Beard that served as a model for many facilities around the United States. “John Beard inspired me throughout my career to think creatively when working with the mentally ill,” said Dr. Dincin. He started two programs in New Jersey similar to Fountain House in 1963.

Dr. Dincin moved to Chicago in 1965 to take over a small organization called Threshholds, which had a staff of 4. By 2002 when he retired, the staff had grown to 900, and it had become one of the country’s premier psychiatric rehabilitation centers, serving 6000 persons annually. His creativity, passion, dedication, and advocacy on behalf of those with serious mental illnesses led to revolutionary service innovations, such as employment, supported housing, education, and home and community outreach, all of which defied stigmas and fostered dignity and independence.

When he first arrived in Chicago, there were no out-patient programs for psychiatric rehabilitation. “In 1965, it was unheard of that psychiatric patients could even work,” said Dr. Dincin. “We started a job program and a housing program, and by the time I left in 2002, we had about 1,000 people living in safe, decent, affordable housing.”

Dr. Dincin invented four totally innovative programs at Threshholds for people with mental illness – for adolescents, deaf people, mothers, and ex-prisoners. “Until then, deaf people with mental illness were treated as if they were retarded in hospitals.” The organization grew and established branches throughout the Chicago area.

“The agency is still doing well, and I feel proud that we were able to establish a way for many thousands of mentally ill people to participate in our society who would previously have been unable to,” Dr. Dincin said shortly before his death. Threshholds won prizes from the American Psychiatric Association, and many other organizations as well.

Dr. Dincin earned his Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Northwestern University in 1976. “It was an accomplishment – running the agency full-time and going to school part-time,” he said.

He met his second wife, Suzanne Streicker, in 1976 when she was working at Threshholds as a Social Worker. “It was thrilling to be on the forefront – the leading edge of psychiatric rehabilitation,” she says, and adds “There was always good energy at Threshholds when Jerry was running it.”

Dr. Dincin was the son of Herman and Renee Dincin, émigrés from Russia and Rumania. He is survived by his wife Suzanne Streicker, a sister Zola Schneider in Washington, D.C., and his four children. He had seven grandchildren.

If you wish to honor Jerry’s memory, please send a contribution in his name to Final Exit Network at