September 22, 2011 / 1:40 AM / 8 years ago

FBI, police seek to reach buyers of suicide kits

PORTLAND, Ore (Reuters) - FBI agents investigating the sale of suicide kits by an elderly California woman alerted authorities in Oregon of a man there who had bought one of the devices, prompting local police to storm his home in a bid to save his life.

It turned out the man whose door was kicked down on Tuesday by Springfield police officers was a copy editor at the Register-Guard newspaper who had purchased the homemade kit for a reporter working on a story about the issue.

The editor was away from home at the time, and the do-it-yourself asphyxiation package he acquired seven months earlier had since been safely stashed away in the desk drawer of the reporter, Randi Bjornstad, she told Reuters on Wednesday. The editor did not wish to be publicly identified.

Police apologized for the intrusion, but said they were acting out of an abundance of caution after receiving a cable from the FBI suggesting the man might be in danger of using the suicide kit on himself.

“We’re going to fix the door,” Springfield police sergeant John Umenhofer said. “But we always err of the side of going in, if there is a question of safety.”

An FBI spokesman in San Diego, special agent Darrell Foxworth, confirmed that federal investigators have notified police elsewhere in Oregon and around the country of individuals believed to have purchased suicide kits.

He acknowledged a four-month lag since federal agents raided the California woman’s home in late May, seizing cartons of documents and computers that included lists of her customers. But he said it took time to review those records and get the word out to local authorities of her customers.

Sharlotte Hydorn, a 91-year-old retired science teacher and great-grandmother who lives near San Diego, had been selling her so-called “exit kits” for $60 each by mail and over the Internet for years.

The product, consisting of a plastic hood that closes around the neck and tubing that connects the hood to a tank of helium or other inert gas, is intended to help terminally ill people end their lives with dignity in their own homes, Hydorn has said. Patients have to acquire the helium themselves.

The kits garnered national attention after Nicholas Klonoski, a depressed but otherwise healthy 29-year-old man from Eugene, Oregon, used one of the kits to end his life in December 2010.

His death sparked an uproar among Oregon politicians and prompted passage of legislation in June to outlaw the sale of such products in Oregon, one of two states with laws on its books legalizing physician-assisted suicides for terminally ill people.

The FBI and U.S. Postal Inspection Service have launched a criminal investigation, executing a search warrant at Hydorn’s home that said she was under investigation for alleged conspiracy, fraud, tax evasion and the sale of an “adulterated or misbranded medical device.”

No charges are known to have been filed against her.

Editing by Steve Gorman and Cynthia Johnston

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