Jacob Sullum

Suicide assistance is so well established as the province of state-licensed physicians that the FBI is investigating Sharlotte Hydorn for selling "adulterated and misbranded medical devices" -- i.e., elasticized plastic bags and plastic tubing that can be attached to a helium tank (sold separately) for a painless death by asphyxiation. The FBI, which raided Hydorn's home two weeks ago and carted away her merchandise, her sewing machine and her computers, is also considering charges of mail and wire fraud.

Contrary to the common-sense understanding of fraud, the problem with Hydorn's kits, from the government's perspective, is that they work as advertised. That might be OK for a properly vetted, legally approved suicide authorized by medical professionals, but not for the do-it-yourself variety that Hydorn facilitated.

If the government allowed that sort of thing, people might start to get the idea that they have a right to control their own lives.

Hydorn, who started her business after watching her husband suffer a painful, lingering death from colon cancer, says her aim is to help people escape unbearable suffering. Her critics object that what seems unbearable one day may not look so bad the next. "You have to make sure they don't want to end their life because they are depressed," a psychiatrist recently told ABC News, "because depression is treatable."

That stance may sound cautious and compassionate, but it effectively strips people of the autonomy to decide for themselves when their lives are worth living. Suicide is not a medical procedure, and doctors have no special expertise to determine when it is the right choice.

Jacob Sullum

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine and a contributing columnist on Townhall.com.
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