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Federal agents raid California suicide kit seller

Federal officials raid the California home of a 91-year-old woman who sells $60 do-it-yourself asphyxiation kits online.
/ Source: news services

Sharlotte Hydorn was surprised when her doorbell rang at 7:30 a.m. and she heard the voices of men threatening to bust their way in.

The 91-year-old says she opened the door Wednesday and was greeted by about a dozen federal agents who were there to seize kits that Hydorn sells online and that people can use to kill themselves.

In December, a 29-year-old Nick Klonoski of Eugene, Ore., used a kit he bought from Hydorn to asphyxiate himself with helium. Oregon was the first state where it is legal for terminally ill people to end their lives by taking lethal medication supplied by a doctor.

Hydorn says her product, consisting of a $60-plastic hood that closes around the neck and tubing that connects the hood to a tank of helium or other inert gas, is intended to help terminally ill people end their lives with dignity in their own homes. Patients have to acquire the helium themselves.

Hydorn sells the kits under the brand name GLADD, which stands for Glorious Life and Dignified Death. She has declined to say how much she earns from her business but denies that she makes as much as $98,000 a year, as some reports have suggested.

A retired science teacher who collects a pension and income from several rental properties, Hydorn said she became interested in helping the terminally ill after losing her husband to colon cancer in 1977.

Oregon lawmakers appalled by a newspaper's March report about Klonoski's death earlier this month passed a bill to make it illegal to sell or market products like Hydorn's in the state. The chief sponsor, Democrat Floyd Prozanski of Eugene, expects the lower House to vote on the measure by next week.

Prozanski said he worries about individuals who impulsively order a suicide kit "as a permanent solution for a temporary problem," and was especially concerned about minors.

He stressed that his bill would leave intact Oregon's landmark 1997 Death with Dignity Act, which allows physicians to prescribe life-ending medication to terminally ill patients. A key provision of that law, however, requires patients to be physically capable of administering the drug to themselves. State records show that 525 Oregonians have ended their lives under the act since 1997.

'Boxes and boxes and boxes'
According to Hydorn, the federal agents knocked on her door in El Cajon, Calif., Wednesday morning and spent the next 10 hours packing up "boxes and boxes and boxes" of stuff and leaving a mess.

Hydorn said she is being accused of mail fraud and that she still had not read through the roughly 15-page search and seizure warrant signed by a judge from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California.

Special Agent Darrell Foxworth, of the FBI's San Diego office, confirmed that agents were at Hydorn's home Wednesday morning but said he could not comment on the contents of the warrant.

"We served a federal search warrant authorized by a federal judge in connection with a criminal matter," Hydorn said. "It's an ongoing investigation."

In a phone interview with The Associated Press 45 minutes after agents left her home, she said she was still shaken and eating ice cream to feel better.

"It was a new experience, and at my age, I've lived through enough things," Hydorn said. She said she would be seeking legal counsel.

20 suicide kits
Hydorn said officials took about 20 suicide kits that were ready to mail out. She said officials also showed her a list of kits she put in the mail Tuesday and that they were intercepted at the post office.

Hydorn has acknowledged that she does not screen buyers of her product, which she sells with instructions. She confirmed that Klonoski purchased one of her kits last June, though he gave no reason.

But she rejects criticism that she is indiscriminately peddling death to people who may be emotionally vulnerable rather than terminally ill.

"I don't call them suicide kits, I call them exit kits," Hydorn said. "They're for people who want some control over their lives, including control over how their lives end."

On Wednesday, agents also seized Hydorn's computers and sewing machine, and her correspondence with individuals at the Final Exit Network, a group that has 3,000 members nationwide and provides support to people seeking to end their lives.

The network has faced protracted legal battles in Arizona and Georgia about whether their support breaks state assisted-suicide laws.

Attorney Robert Rivas, the network's general counsel, said the network is not breaking any laws and that its members strictly offer counseling and emotional support.