FBI raids home of suicide kit maker in California

Reuters News
Posted: May 27, 2011 7:33 PM
FBI raids home of suicide kit maker in California

By Marty Graham

SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - A great-grandmother selling do-it-yourself asphyxiation kits by mail said on Thursday she was ordered from her house at gunpoint by federal agents who raided her home and seized cartons of documents, computers and sewing machines.

Sharlotte Hydorn, 91, told Reuters about a dozen agents in flak jackets from the FBI and U.S. Postal Inspection Service arrived at her San Diego-area home at about 7 a.m. local time on Wednesday, and ordered her outside, shouting, "Come out, or I'll shoot."

"I had guns in my face. I thought, 'I'm dying on my feet.' ... I didn't know what to say," she recounted, sitting inside a sprawling three-bedroom ranch house still strewn a day later with papers and boxes.

They presented her with a 37-page search warrant signed on Tuesday by a U.S. magistrate and proceeded to comb through her house for nearly 11 hours, leaving the dwelling in disarray when they left, she said.

Agents also left behind a 46-page list of items they confiscated, including her computers, sewing machines and all her tax and rental property documents.

"They took all my thread, and my spread sheets," she said. "I don't even have my phone numbers."

A copy of the search warrant shown to Reuters indicated Hydorn was under investigation for alleged conspiracy, mail fraud, wire fraud, tax evasion and the "sale of adulterated or misbranded medical device."

FBI and Postal Inspection Service officials in California confirmed their agents carried out a search warrant on Wednesday at Hydorn's home but declined to release further details of the investigation.

Hydorn made headlines after one of her mail-order customers from Oregon, Nicholas Klonoski, 29, described by his family as suffering from depression but otherwise healthy, used one of her kits to take his own life in December.

Her product consists of a plastic hood that closes around the neck, and tubing that connects the hood to a tank of helium or other inert gas users must supply for themselves.

Hydorn says her so-called "exit kits" are intended to help terminally ill people end their lives with dignity in their own homes, though she has acknowledged she performs no background checks or screening of individuals who order the apparatus.

She sells them for $60 each, including shipping and instructions, under the brand name GLADD, which stands for Glorious Life and Dignified Death.

Critics, including members of Klonoski's family, have accused Hydorn of indiscriminately peddling suicide kits to some people who may be emotionally fragile, rather than terminally ill, and that troubled minors might be especially vulnerable.

Hydorn, who lives with an adopted son on a quiet cul-de-sac in the suburb of El Cajon, just northeast of San Diego, said she has not yet retained a lawyer, and was not cowed by the raid.

"I'm tired of fighting 24/7, but I'm actually looking forward to being able to fight for the right to die with dignity," she said.

Notoriety surrounding Klonoski's suicide sparked a move among state legislators to outlaw sales of such devices in Oregon, one of only two states -- the other is Washington -- with laws on the books legalizing physician-assisted suicide for people with incurable, fatal illnesses.

A retired science teacher who collects a pension, and income from several rented properties, Hydorn said she has been selling her hooded asphyxiation kits for about 20 years but makes little money from the enterprise.

However, she said orders jumped sharply from media attention surrounding Klonoski's death and recent passage in Oregon's state Senate of a bill to ban sales and marketing of such products.

(Additional reporting by Steve Gorman and Teresa Carson; Editing by Jerry Norton)