Moral Low Ground

Civil Liberties

91-Year-Old Woman Selling $60 Suicide Kits

An elderly California woman has ignited heated controversy by selling mail-order suicide kits. According to the Daily Beast, Sharlotte Hydorn, age 91, personally assembles the kits and sells them for $60 through her company, the Gladd Group. Each kit contains a plastic bag, a tube and a book titled Final Exit, all packed into a white box adorned with a butterfly. Customers have to rent a helium tank; they place their head in the plastic bag and run a hose from the bag to the tank. Helium is lethal in its pure form.

Four months ago, the first confirmed suicide attributed to Hydorn’s kit was reported in Oregon when 29-year-old Nick Klonoski, who was not terminally ill but reportedly suffered from depression, was found dead in his bed with a plastic bag over his head and a Gladd Group helium-hood kit in the room.

Nick’s brother Zack was incensed. “In a society where so many people suffer from depression and other mental health disorders, this company has found their niche in the market by peddling death,” he testified at a state legislative hearing earlier this month. “This is analogous to putting a gun-vending machine next to a depression clinic. The Gladd company, so named as to avoid suspicion in case family members happen to sign for or come across the package, made $60 off my brother’s death.”

According to the Daily Beast, the Gladd Group’s estimated annual sales are $98,000, meaning that Hydorn sells 1,633 suicide kits each year.

Under Oregon’s progressive Death With Dignity Act, terminally ill residents are allowed to obtain lethal prescriptions to end their own lives. But Hydorn doesn’t only sell her kits to terminally ill people.

Oregon State Senator Floyd Prozanski (D), aghast upon learning of Klonoski’s death, has introduced a bill that would make it a Class C felony to sell suicide kits. “There’s no check and balances as to who actually may be buying them including minors,” Prozanski told KVAL.

But Hydorn defends her business with a personal story. She told the Daily Beast that 30 years ago, her husband, “a six-foot-four, wonderful, handsome, loving, intelligent man,” was dying of colon cancer. The disease spread to his brain after numerous operations, and doctors had to cut a hole in his stomach through which his waste passed into a bag. Hydorn strongly believes that no human being should have to suffer through the kind of slow, painful death in a cold hospital room that her husband experienced.

“Death should be with loved ones beside you, holding your hand,” she said.

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10 Comments

  1. Bill PieperApril 30, 2011 at 3:41 pmReply

    An apparently depressed but otherwise healthy adult has committed suicide at a young age when he could likely have benefited from treatment. This is sad in itself, perhaps even tragic, and his family must feel horrible about it.

    That said, however, I fail to see why the particular means he chose should be a source of greater outrage than any of the numerous other means–guns, razor blades, poison, barbituates, ropes, car wrecks–that our society makes readily available, often at lower cost than $60, and requiring less premeditation and planning. Death is still death and the method he chose is still ghastly, though perhaps less painful and less bloody for the victim. Ghastly enough that it could hardly be called an attractive nuisance, which the law is sometimes called on to prevent.

    Meanwhile, save some outrage for the thousands of people in states other than Oregon, who are suffering and hopeless at the end of their lives and have no legal way out. It is they and their compassionate families who are forced to resort to underground use of “exit masks” like the one in question here, whether purchased on the Internet or manufactured at home from materials found at any WalMart. When the rest of the US finally has sensible laws, “exit masks” will have no market and will disappear.

    For a look at this problem in a contemporary California context, please refer to my novel What You Wish For on amazon.com. Sadly, we don’t have a sensible end-of-life law here yet.

    • Brett WilkinsApril 30, 2011 at 4:03 pmReplyAuthor

      Here’s to sensible laws!

  2. CaterinaMay 1, 2011 at 9:26 amReply

    1. Watching my mum kept alive in a nursing home for 2 long years while she prayed every day to die, but was not allowed to take her own life;
    2. Watching my friend’s mother lose her mind to dementia, try to commit suicide after losing her husband, locked up and kept alive even tho she begs to die and is no longer able to be a contributing member of society;
    3. Putting people on lifetime “treatment” (read drugs) so they won’t kill themselves, yet they never find happiness and live lives of quiet desperation;
    4. It is more than time to allow all adults the dignity of making their own choice about when they die.

    • SueMay 6, 2011 at 1:51 pmReply

      AMEN!!

  3. NicoleMay 13, 2011 at 5:44 amReply

    it bothers me none if someone dies or not. human beings are so very different than any other species of the world. no other creature would feel sadness or depression and try to take their lives. also no other creature would try to prevent their eminent death. the human race has put too much into ensuring that we live long lives and not enough into ensuring that we “live” them. as it is we are a parasite to our only home and we drastically continue to overpopulate it. in nature and in humanity it is survival of the fittest. by allowing the weak of mind and spirit we are only strengthening our gene pool. however more to the point i believe that we give our government far to much control over us. as a human being i have the right to choose. that means i have the right to choose what to do with my life, even if that means that i choose to not have one.

  4. kyleMay 15, 2011 at 10:15 pmReply

    Hilarious!She isn’t breaking any laws, shes not freakin marketing them to depression clinics or anything, let her be. I think everyone who’s bitching about this is just jealous they didnt think of such a simple way to make money, i know i am!

  5. HannahJune 4, 2011 at 1:56 pmReply

    For those supporting this woman…what if it was YOUR CHILD who used her death bag to take his life? She will sell these things to anyone willing to pay $60, including minors. If people who are terminal and still have clarity of thought want to kill themselves, that is one thing. But to contribute to the death of a young person should be illegal. She does NO CHECKING…she’s in it for the money. I hope she goes to prison for the rest of her miserable life.

    • Rick RossNovember 23, 2011 at 3:01 pmReply

      Hannah, yes it would be devastating if your child took his/her life at a young age. BUT people die literally all the time from random events. Additionally the treatment options for depression are PATHETIC!!! She’s not in it for the money, what is she going to do with the money at that age? What if your child was addicted to cigarettes at age 22? Would you attack the drug companies and say that they should go to prison? At the end of the day, living / dying should be a personal choice. Better to have accessible options available than gruesome ones (i.e. hanging).

  6. MelissaJuly 28, 2011 at 1:44 pmReply

    How about instead of ranting at someone offering a solution, even if you think it a bad one to people who want to die …get your asses out there and do something about the millions of people who suffer untreated and unable to afford or access treatment for depression and other mental illness. Solve THAT problem then what she is selling will be left to those who are terminally ill as her marketing intends.

    • Brett WilkinsJuly 28, 2011 at 2:30 pmReplyAuthor

      I firmly believe that the terminally ill who wish to end their own lives ought to be able to do so. The only thing I have a problem with in this case would be if she was selling suicide kits to all comers without verifying age, illness, etc.

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