Oregon Moves to Outlaw Suicide Kits as Right-to-Die Forces Rally Abroad

Oregon has just become the second state after Washington to consider outlawing so-called "suicide kits," which run around $60 and contain asphyxiation hoods that connect patients with tanks of helium or another inert gas, Reuters reports. The state House of Representatives has passed legislation against the mail-order devices, and the bill will move to the state Senate, which according to Reuters, "passed similar legislation in May."

Oregon's new opposition to such kits came after the controversial suicide of a 29-year-old resident of Eugene:

The newly passed Oregon bill was sparked by notoriety surrounding an elderly California woman who sells self-asphyxiation kits through a mail-order business, and the December suicide of one of her customers from Eugene, Oregon, 29-year-old Nicholas Klonoski.
Sharlotte Hydorn, 91, a retired science teacher and great-grandmother who lives near San Diego, says her product is intended to help people with incurable, fatal illnesses end their lives with dignity in their own homes.
...

Critics, including Klonoski's brother, have faulted Hydorn for not screening potential buyers of her kits, which they say she peddles indiscriminately to customers who may be emotionally fragile, rather than terminally ill.

Klonoski's family said he suffered from depression but was otherwise healthy when he used one of Hydorn's kits to take his own life around Christmas time.

"We don't want somebody coming into Oregon making a profit off this kind of thing," Representative Jeff Barker, a Democrat and sponsor of the bill, told Reuters.

The state's move comes as the right-to-die movement grows in volume abroad. The British novelist Terry Pratchett, 63 years old and diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, has become an outspoken proponent for assisted suicide in recent years. He recently was filmed watching another man kill himself with barbiturates as part of a documentary on the subject for the BBC, the AP reports. Many anti-euthanasia groups have criticized the documentary for such explicit footage of a man's death, but the author sees virtue in the act. Britain so far has taken a stance against assisted suicide, a position Pratchett hopes to change:

Pratchett watched Peter Smedley, a 71-year-old British businessman with motor neuron disease, take a lethal dose of barbiturates at facility run by the Swiss group Dignitas.

...

He said he was moved by Smedley's death, broadcast Monday on BBC television.

"He said to me 'Have a good life.' And then he shook (my PA) Rob's hand and said 'Have a good life, I know I have,'" 63-year-old Pratchett told the broadcaster.

"The incongruity of the situation overtakes you. A man has died, that's a bad thing, but he wanted to die, that's a good thing."

Pratchett said he was ashamed that British people had "to drag themselves to Switzerland, at considerable cost, in order to get the services that they were hoping for."

Read the full story at Reuters and the Associated Press.

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John Hendel is a writer based in Washington, DC, and a former producer at The Atlantic.

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