Oregon votes to outlaw sale of suicide kits

PORTLAND, Ore Tue Jun 14, 2011 7:39pm IST

1 of 2. A 'suicide kit' is seen during a Reuters Interview in London May 7, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Stefan Wermuth

PORTLAND, Ore (Reuters) - Sales of suicide kits, like the do-it-yourself asphyxiation hood used by a man to kill himself late last year, could soon be outlawed in the state of Oregon.

The state's House of Representative passed the bill on Monday to ban the products. It must now be considered in the state Senate, which passed similar legislation in May.

Sponsors say the bill would in no way impinge on a landmark 1997 state law legalizing physician-assisted suicides for terminally ill individuals in Oregon.

Washington is the only other state with such a statute on the books.

The newly passed Oregon bill was sparked by notoriety surrounding an elderly California woman who sells self-asphyxiation kits through a mail-order business, and the December suicide of one of her customers from Eugene, Oregon, 29-year-old Nicholas Klonoski.

Sharlotte Hydorn, 91, a retired science teacher and great-grandmother who lives near San Diego, says her product is intended to help people with incurable, fatal illnesses end their lives with dignity in their own homes.

The kits, which sell for $60 including shipping, consist of a plastic hood that closes around the neck and tubing that connects the hood to a tank of helium or other inert gas the patients supply themselves.

Critics, including Klonoski's brother, have faulted Hydorn for not screening potential buyers of her kits, which they say she peddles indiscriminately to customers who may be emotionally fragile, rather than terminally ill.

Klonoski's family said he suffered from depression but was otherwise healthy when he used one of Hydorn's kits to take his own life around Christmas time.

"We don't want somebody coming into Oregon making a profit off this kind of thing," Representative Jeff Barker, a Democrat and sponsor of the bill, told Reuters.

Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber, a Democrat and former emergency room physician, has taken no position on the bill, a spokeswoman said.

The bill would make it a felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, for a person to sell "any substance or object that is capable of causing death to another person for the purpose of assisting the other person to commit suicide."

Supporters stressed the measure would leave intact Oregon's Death with Dignity Act, which allows physicians to prescribe life-ending medication to terminally ill patients, though the patients must be physically capable of administering the drug to themselves.

State records show that 525 Oregonians have ended their lives under the statute since 1997.

Hydorn has said sales of her product, which she calls "exit kits," jumped sharply as a result of media attention stemming from Klonoski's death and reaction to it in Oregon. She said much of her recent business has come from Oregon.

Armed federal agents raided her home last month and seized cartons of documents, computers and sewing machines under a search warrant Hydorn said accused her of conspiracy, mail fraud, tax evasion and the "sale of (an) adulterated or misbranded medical device."

(Editing by Steve Gorman and Jerry Norton)

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