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Suicide-kit defendant to be sentenced in San Diego federal court

May 7, 2012 |  7:51 am

Sharlotte HydornA 92-year-old woman who admits selling “death kits” to help people commit suicide is set to be sentenced Monday in San Diego federal court on income tax charges.

Sharlotte Hydorn, a retired teacher, has sold more than 1,300 of the kits. She and her son assembled the kits at her home in El Cajon.

She is set to be sentenced  for failing to pay taxes since 2007 on the money from properties, her pension, and from the sale of the $40 to $60 plastic hood that she sometimes marked on shipping labels as a beauty bonnet, orchid humidifier or plastic rain hood but was actually a way to commit suicide.

If the judge agrees to a plea bargain reached by opposing lawyers, Hydorn will receive no jail time but be required to pay back taxes and penalties. The prosecution puts that figure at $25,709.

As part of the bargain, Hydorn has promised not to sell any more of her kits. She accepts responsibility for not paying her taxes but will not apologize for selling the death kits, according to her attorney, Charles Goldberg.

“She did not seek out the limelight in this case, yet she does not intend to back down from her beliefs,” Goldberg said in his pre-sentencing document.

By fashioning the case as one of tax evasion rather than assisted suicide, prosecutors sidestepped the ethically complex and political controversial issue of whether non-physicians should be allowed to help a terminally ill patient die.

Hydorn’s determination to help the terminally ill evolved after she watched her husband suffer for two years with colon cancer before his death. She joined the local Hemlock Society and began counseling dying patients and then decided to sell her kits.

According to court documents, Hydorn is supported by numerous relatives of the terminally ill who were helped to relieve their suffering. But others denounce her for selling the kits through the mail indiscriminately, including to teenagers and others who were not terminally ill.

A 19-year-old killed himself with one of Hydorn’s kits, according to court documents. “We lost our child forever,” his parents responded when contacted by federal authorities. “If it wasn’t for this kit, our child would have been alive.”


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— Tony Perry in San Diego

Photo: Sharlotte Hydorn after federal agents raided her home in El Cajon. Credit: Marty Graham / Reuters