Suicide Kits Under Fire as Oregon Proposes Ban of Sale

PHOTO: helium hood

Oregon senators have unanimously voted in favor of passing a bill that would ban the sale or marketing of suicide kits.

The vote came in response to a 29-year-old Oregonian named Nick Klonoski who used a suicide kit to end his life in December. Klonoski ordered the simple kit, which contained a hood and tube, through the mail.

"After learning of a young man who took his life using a helium hood he bought, it became obvious that there were no checks and balances of marketing suicide kits," said State Sen. Floyd Prozanski, who sponsored the bill. "Minors had access to the kits through the Internet, and I personally don't believe we need to be marketing an object like a suicide kit."

Prozanski said that he supports assisted suicide for those who are terminally ill and have been counseled on ending their life, but not for young people who are depressed but otherwise physically healthy.

The Daily Beast reported that Klonoski was not terminally ill, and would not have qualified for lethal prescriptions available to eligible Oregon residents under the Death with Dignity Act. Oregon is one of three other states in which assisted suicide is legal.

"Any kid who suffers from depression after losing their first boyfriend or girlfriend and thinking the world is over has access to this right now," Prozanski said.

When Klonoski received his suicide package in the mail, it might have been anything: a simple white box decorated with a butterfly. But inside were the simple tools he would use to end his life.

And even after Klonoski reportedly used one of Sharlotte Hydorn's homemade suicide kits to end his life in December, the 91-year-old entrepreneur said she makes no apologies for his death.

"I cannot take all the sadness of the world on my shoulders," said Hydorn from her home in La Mesa, Calif. "I feel so sorry for the mama, but I'm not at fault. That's his choice, not my choice."

While Hydorn believes she's "making the world better" by selling the kits to people who want to end their life, she took the news of the Oregon bill in stride.

"If I never sell anymore kits there, that's fine," said Hydorn. "Oregon is Oregon, and they can do as they please.

"Since this bill came out, I've received many many orders from Oregon," said Hydorn. "They haven't benefited themselves, and now people are stocking up before the law closes on them."

Hydorn said the homemade kits, which she has been selling for four years, are intended to assist the death of those who are terminally or in severe chronic pain. But anyone can request the $60 kit, and she does not screen her clients before sending out the device.

Business doubled after Klonoski's death made headlines, according to Hydorn, and she plans on continuing to grow her small company.

Hydorn first became interested in assisted suicide after watching metastatic colon cancer take over her husband's body in 1977. He died in the hospital, instead of at home, where Hydorn said he belonged.

"It's always been in my mind that people should have the right to die at home with a family around them, not in a strange place surrounded by strangers," she said.

Hydorn was sure to look into the legal side of things before starting her mail-order business by making sure that she would not be implicated in any potential legal woes.

"The attorney told me, 'You're just the bag lady,'" she said. "So long as I'm not present when death occurs, and I'm not telling them to shut up and pull the bag down already, I am not accountable."

Hydorn Meets Humphry

Three years after her husband's death, Hydorn met Derek Humphry, author of "Final Exit" and founder of the right-to-die organization, the Hemlock Society. Hydorn believed in Humphry's mission and began to volunteer, and ultimately became a board member, for the organization.

"I assume her purpose is Kevorkian-like-- to help people with terminal illness feel empowered," said Dr. Ken Robbins, clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin and director of psychiatry at Stoughton Hospital nearby.

But even if a person believes assisted suicide is ethical, Robbins said it is essential for a clinician to thoroughly screen patients to be sure they are not suicidal because of depression.

"You have to make sure they don't want to end their life because they are depressed because depression is treatable." said Robbins. "If the person goes through a good evaluation with a clinician, it's not that hard to decipher."

"If they have depression that is temporary due to the illness, or from the mental condition itself, part of the symptom is to feel hopeless," said Robbins. "People have to know that it will get better through treatment."

"For people in emotional pain, I don't know how anyone could argue that it is ethically appropriate to help them commit suicide," Robbins said.

Hydorn said people call or write to her to request a kit, which includes a customized plastic bag and a tube intended to be connected to a tank of inert gas. Often times customers provide little detail of their intentions. They usually tell her their name, the number of desired kits and the address where they'd like the kit to be sent. They enclose a check for the appropriate amount and sometimes include extra postage if they want the package delivered overnight or sent internationally.

Hydorn said she has received requests for kits from all over the world.

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