Hemlock Society & Foundation of Florida

FBI raids suicide kit supplier

By Joel Siegfried, Examiner.com

A dozen special agents from the FBI and U.S. Postal Inspection Service wearing flak jackets and bullet proof vests raided the El Cajon, California home of 91-year-old Sharlotte Hydorn on Wednesday, May 25, 2011 at 7:00 a.m. PDT, serving a search warrant, and pointing their drawn weapons at the elderly woman who has been making and selling suicide kits from her modest San Diego County residence for the last 20 years.

The federal lawmen ordered the somewhat dazed Ms. Hydorn out of her home, during their 11-hour search and seizure operation, in which they confiscated boxes of the asphyxiation devices, computers, a sewing machine, thread, spreadsheets, receipts, tax records, and other evidence as reported by ReutersCBS NewsWGN-TV ChicagoWTAQ News TalkKFMB CBS8 San DiegoKGTV 10News, and several other media sources on Thursday, May 26, 2011.

Although shaken by the raid, speaking with a reporter from KGTV, Ms. Hydorn remained defiant, stating that she had done nothing wrong, and welcomed an opportunity to confront her accusers. "I'm tired of fighting 24/7, but I'm actually looking forward to being able to fight for the right to die with dignity," Ms. Hydorn said.

While physician assisted suicide (PAS) is banned by law in California and all other states except Washington and Oregon, the devices are regarded as a humane way for persons who are terminally ill to end their suffering. Ms. Hydorn's company, GLADD Group, is an acronym for "Good Life And Dignified Death".

The home made devices, which are sold for $60 including shipping to any location, except the state of Georgia, consist of a plastic bag held in place over a person's head by an elastic band, tubing that connects to external helium or other inert tanks of gas that the user must acquire separately, and an instruction manual written by Derek Humphry called "Final Exit", as shown in the attached video clip interview with Ms. Hydorn and slide show which accompany this article.

As discussed in a previous report, helium has been used in physician assisted suicides outside the United States, at clinics in Switzerland, where the terminally ill have been helped in ending their suffering. Such asphyxiation methods have been documented in a scholarly article by Russel D. OgdenWilliam K. Hamilton, and Charles Whitcher, "Assisted suicide by oxygen deprivation with helium at a Swiss right-to-die organisation", published in the Journal of Medical Ethics.

Those who have chosen this method of dying are instructed to exhale deeply before breathing the inert gas. Studies have shown that such persons who breathe helium become unconscious within 30 to 45 seconds, with death occurring minutes later. A clinic staff member remains with the dying person, observing them, and have reported involuntary movements of a hand or arm, but no indication of pain or other distress.
Ms. Hydorn, who has been selling her hooded asphyxiation kits for about 20 years, became the center of a controversy for providing one of the devices to 29-year-old Nick Klonoski of Eugene, Oregon, who was the son of a federal judge, Ann Aiken who serves on the United States District Court for the District of Oregon.

Mr. Klonoski was not terminally ill. Instead, he was suffering from depression associated with a long history of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). After taking his own life on December 17, 2010, the Oregon senate passed legislation making it a felony to sell or transfer "any substance or objects to another person knowing that person plans to use it to kill themselves."

Orders for the kits spiked from media attention after Mr. Klonoski's death, which also stirred up a legal controversy.

Although Ms. Hydorn has not been charged yet with any crime, the raid by the federal government focused on gathering evidence to support charges of mail fraud, wire fraud, tax evasion and the sale of adulterated and misbranded medical devices.
Death with dignity has long been a goal of the Hemlock Society, a national right-to-die organization founded in Santa Monica, CA by Derek Humphry in 1980. Mr. Humphry's 1992 book, Final Exit, last updated in May 2009, was the number one best selling nonfiction book in America for 18 weeks and has sold over one million copies. It has been translated into 12 languages, but is banned in France.

In the future, more people will face end of life issues as the elderly become a larger portion of an aging population. Suicide will continue to raise moral, legal, ethical, and spiritual questions, along with debates over personal choice and individual freedom.

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