92-year-old woman sentenced in suicide-kit case

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SAN DIEGO (AP) — A 92-year-old woman who sold $40 suicide kits was sentenced Monday for failing to file federal tax returns.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Bernard Skomal ordered Sharlotte Hydorn to serve five years of supervised probation and pay a fine of $1,000. She could have faced a year in prison.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Peter J. Mazza told the court that the case initially was investigated because authorities saw a risk to the public because Hydorn wasn’t verifying who her customers were.

There’s no federal law against selling the kits.

Hydorn said after sentencing that all she wanted to do was allow people to die at home, surrounded by family and friends.

Both the prosecution and defense agreed she should be spared prison and sentenced to the probation, but prosecutors had recommend that Hydorn be ordered to pay more than $25,000 in restitution to the IRS, a charge that the defense asked she also be spared.

The retired schoolteacher earlier told authorities she knew the helium kits were intended to be used to commit suicide but she said she thought they would be used by the terminally ill.

She pleaded guilty to the tax charge, but under an agreement with prosecutors she will not be in charged in state court with involvement in six suicides.

The Spokane, Wash, native began assisting physicians with patient suicides after her husband, Rex, died of colon cancer, said Charles Goldberg, her attorney. Her husband was in “agonizing pain” and did not want to die “filled with tubes in a hospital.”

Hydorn felt she could design a helium hood that would be more comfortable for patients than the ones she saw doctors using. She received “thousands” of orders for her hoods and began charging for her time and materials.

Agents who raided her home in suburban San Diego last year found checks that were not cashed and thousands of dollars in cash from buyers, her attorney has said.

“To Ms. Hydorn, her involvement in the suicide kits was an act of compassion and not based on greed,” Mr. Goldberg wrote.

Prosecutors said she took no steps to verify the physical condition, age, identity or mental state of her customers and therefore had no idea whether her kits were being bought by people suffering from depression or by minors acting without the consent of an adult. Court documents say she sold more than 1,300 kits to people across the United States and abroad. Most of them contacted her by mail or phone.

Hydorn’s kits included tubing, material for the hood and a user diagram. A needed helium source was not included.

Investigators determined that the kits had been sold to at least 50 people in San Diego County since 2007 and that four of those people last year used the kits to commit suicide. None was terminally ill, according to investigators.

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