Suicide Kit Debate Centers on Local Woman

Mail-order suicide kits, sold by a 91-year-old East County woman, are sparking nationwide curiosity and outrage.

The kits already have prompted legislation in Oregon to outlaw them.

Now, Sharlotte Hydorn's name is 'blowing up' on the internet after a story just posted by the Daily Beast.

Hydorn's making no apologies, and beyond debating ethical issues over her product that's aimed at desperate-to-die people.

Is she beyond the law?

That's become the issue, after the son of a federal judge took his own life with one of Hydorn's kits.

"Well, I've thought about that poor mother (U.S. Dist. Judge Ann Aiken) in Oregon," Hydorn said in an interview Thursday at her home in the foothills of unincorporated El Cajon.

"She should be glad that young man -- if he was determined to die -- that he didn't jump out of a building, so he was a mess of guts and blood and bones on the street. That he didn't hang himself in the closet."

Hydorn's life has gotten hectic since Aiken's son, 29-year-old Nick Klonoski, used one of the kits she and her son Raja sell by mail order to commit suicide in Eugene, Oregon last December.

The kits feature a plastic hood fitted by elastic over the head, with tubing that connects to a helium tank, which can be rented commercially.

Hydorn explains, "Your brain says, 'Oh, I think I'll take a nap now.' And that's the end of your awareness. And in about 20 minutes, you're gone. Your hands are cold and you are dead."

Hydorn does business, at $60 per kit, through a UPS mail drop in unincorporated La Mesa.

Oregon lawmakers are working on legislation to outlaw this sort of business.


Demand for the kits has exploded.

"Ordinarily, I had maybe a couple calls a month from Oregon," Hydorn noted. "We had over 50 (in the wake of the legislation being filed). Everybody wanted to get this bag before the opportunity stopped."

Hydorn took up her grim trade -- under the corporate title Gladd Group -- after the painful, long-drawn-out cancer death of her husband Rex.

They were educators in the San Diego city schools.

She's been active in the local Hemlock Society.

A book titled "Final Exit" is a guiding text.

Hydorn doesn't recommend any of this for minors.

But, as she points out: ""If their parents aren't supportive in a 'Dr. Phil McGraw' way, that kid may hang himself or jump off a building or whatever."

Legally speaking, prosecuting Hydorn over her kits may prove a challenge.

"Obviously it's repugnant; we don't wish for people to kill themselves," says Gretchen von Helms, a criminal defense attorney in San Diego.

"But if someone sold a butcher knife, for example, you can't prosecute the maker of the butcher knife for someone killing themselves for it."

Hydorn says mail orders for the kits are now running upwards of 70 a month.

"I'm not in it to make money," she insists. "I'm in it to make it so people can die in peace with their loved ones with them."

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