Reporting from San Diego -- A former schoolteacher who sold suicide kits that she once touted as leaving people “eternally sleepy” pleaded guilty Friday to a tax evasion charge and agreed to stop encouraging people to commit suicide.
Sharlotte Hydorn mailed more than 1,300 of the so-called helium hood suicide kits to people around the world, concealing the true nature of the product by describing the boxes as “orchid humidifiers” or “beauty bonnets” or “plastic rain hoods” on U.S. customs forms, according to federal prosecutors.
The $60 kits actually contained a clear plastic bag, medical grade tubing and a how-to diagram. A customer would place the bag over his head, connect the tubing from the bag to a helium tank and turn the valve. Death would be caused by helium asphyxiation.
Hydorn, 91, who was once an elementary school science teacher, marketed the product to terminally ill people as a compassionate alternative. She admitted to federal agents, however, that she didn’t verify the physical condition, age or identity of the people who ordered her product.
She drew scrutiny last year after one of her devices was found over the head of a dead 29-year-old man from Eugene, Ore. In May, federal agents raided her home in El Cajon, east of San Diego, where she assembled the kits with her son.
Investigators determined that the kits had been sold to at least 50 people in San Diego County since 2007. In 2010, four San Diego residents — none of them terminally ill — committed suicide using the kits, according to prosecutors.
Hydorn said she became interested in assisted suicide after watching her once-healthy husband die after a long battle with colon cancer 30 years ago. He died in a hospital bed, and she regrets not being able to respect his wishes to die in the comfort of his home.
Her product, Hydorn said, ends lives peacefully, leaving people “eternally sleepy.”
In Oregon, where assisted suicide is legal under certain conditions, lawmakers have introduced a bill that would outlaw any device sold with the intent that another person use it to commit suicide.
Hydorn had failed to file federal income tax returns since 2007 and agreed to pay about $26,000 in outstanding taxes, prosecutors said. She faces a maximum penalty of one year in prison and is scheduled to be sentenced Feb. 26.