Euthanasia Activist Grandma Gets Nailed by the IRS
If the federal government could nail Al Capone on tax charges, euthanasia device maker Sharlotte Hydorn, 92, didn't stand a chance.
Hydorn, of El Cajon, Calif., pleaded guilty last week in federal court to a charge of failing to file federal income tax returns since 2007 on $150,000 in earnings from various sources, including the profits from selling kits designed to help people end their lives.
Under the terms of the plea agreement, Hydorn has agreed to pay approximately $26,000 in back taxes and to quit selling the devices. She could have faced up to one year in jail and/or a $100,000 fine, but was spared jail time in part because of her age, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Melanie K. Pierson. Hydorn sold approximately 1,300 kits for $40 apiece, according to court records.
The retired school teacher was motivated to make the kits -- a plastic hood with tubing that could be attached to a tank of helium or other inert gas -- after watching her husband die a slow, painful death from colon cancer, according to a local media report. She blamed doctors for unnecessarily keeping him alive.
Hydorn made headlines in May when FBI agents raided her home after one of her customers, who suffered from depression and not a terminal illness, used her kit to asphyxiate himself in December 2010. At least six other deaths were linked to the kits, which Hydorn manufactured and sold under the name the "GLADD Group (Glorious Life And Dignified Death)," according to media reports.
"In her plea, Hydorn acknowledged that the helium hood kits were intended to be used by others to commit suicide," according to a press release from U.S. Attorney Laura E. Duffy. "She advised investigators that while she anticipated that her suicide kits would be used by the terminally ill, she took no steps to verify the physical condition, age, identity, or mental condition of the customer. Based upon her statements to investigators, it was clear that Hydorn, in fact, had no way of knowing if a purchaser was simply depressed or a minor acting without the consent or guidance of their parent."
Hydorn apparently was well known in pro-euthanasia circles. Activist Chris Docker, who has written a book on euthanasia and edits a blog on the subject, doesn't think that Hydorn's legal troubles will deter people who want to end their lives.
"Only a small percentage of people buying the bags actually used them," wrote Docker on the blog of his UK-based organization, EXIT. "Hydorn provided an option for people who, for instance, could not manage to assemble a bag with some elastic on account of arthritis in the hands. But the method became so popular among people with good reasons to take matters into their own hands -- people with unbearable and unrelievable suffering -- that it was also chosen as a suicide method by those experiencing emotional trauma or despair."
Jonathan Berr is a Motley Fool contributing writer.