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Great-grandmother (93) fined over mail order suicide kits


Sharlotte Hydorn  Photo: Reuters

Sharlotte Hydorn Photo: Reuters

Sharlotte Hydorn Photo: Reuters

A GREAT-grandmother who made headlines by selling suicide kits from her California home was placed on five years of supervised probation on Monday and ordered to pay a $1,000 (€768) fine for a tax-related offence stemming from her mail-order business.

Sharlotte Hydorn, a retired science teacher, pleaded guilty in December to a federal charge of failing to file income tax returns from 2007 through 2010, a period during which investigators said at least seven customers used her kits to kill themselves.

Prosecutors said Ms Hydorn sold about 1,300 of the do-it-yourself asphyxiation hoods during those years, but agreed to stop making or selling them as part of a plea deal.

Ms Hydorn gained notoriety after one of her mail-order customers in Oregon, Nicholas Klonoski, 29, described by his family as suffering from depression but otherwise healthy, used one of her so-called exit kits to kill himself in December 2010.

Outrage over that case led Oregon state lawmakers to pass legislation to ban sales of such devices, even though Oregon is one of two US states with laws legalising physician-assisted suicide for people with incurable, fatal illnesses.

Mrs Hydorn said little in court on Monday, nodding her head in agreement when the judge asked if her correct age was 93 – prosecutors say court records show she is 92 – and pleading with the judge for the return of records and other belongings seized by federal agents when her home was raided last year.

She also expressed concern about being allowed to travel to Mexico for visits with an adopted son who lives there.

The San Diego County district attorney, who was a party to the plea settlement, agreed not to prosecute Ms Hydorn for her role in any of the six additional known deaths that occurred in California.

But the federal judge who sentenced Ms Hydorn in San Diego rendered a finding that her suicide kit business was illegal under California law.

Hydorn was prosecuted under the US tax code because "the sale of suicide kits is not a violation of federal law," assistant US Attorney Peter Mazza said after the sentencing.

"This case was never about the position that someone has the right to end their own life. This was about her indiscriminate sale of kits to anyone who wrote her a check."

Ms Hydorn has said her product was intended to help terminally ill people end their lives with dignity at home. But she acknowledged selling the kits without performing background checks or screening individuals who ordered the apparatus.

Prosecutors said Ms Hydorn had no way of knowing whether her customers actually suffered from incurable, fatal illnesses or were merely depressed, or whether they were adults or minors.

The kits, priced at $60 (€46) each including instructions and shipping, consisted of a plastic hood that closed around the neck, and tubing that connected the hood to a tank of gas.

Ms Hydorn said she had sold her product for the past 20 years under the brand name GLADD, which stands for Glorious Life And Dignified Death, though she insisted she made little money from the enterprise. The government estimated she grossed $40,000 (€30,727) from the sales.

As part of her plea deal, Ms Hydorn agreed to pay more than $25,000 (€19,204) in back taxes owed to the Internal Revenue Service.

Ms Hydorn has said her interest in helping the terminally ill stemmed from the loss of her husband to colon cancer in 1977.

On Monday after the hearing, she recounted how her spouse was tied down to his hospital bed with restraints at the end of his life.

"All he could say was, 'Home, home.' He wanted to go home, and I couldn't take him. That's how we got here," she said.