Oregon Senate Votes to Stop Sale of “Suicide Kits,” Hoods

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   May 10, 2011   |   1:05PM   |   Salem, OR

Assisted suicide is perfectly fine in Oregon, the first state to legalize the grisly practice, but the sale of so-called “suicide kits” — hoods or other items people can use to kill themselves — has been prohibited.

Members of the Oregon Senate on Monday voted to ban the sale of the kits in a bill passed unanimously in response to the death of 29-year-old Eugene resident Nick Klonoski, who killed himself after using a kit he purchased from a company in California. The bill prohibits the sale or transfer of “any substance or objects to another person knowing that the other person intends to use” it to commit suicide.

The kits cost about $60 and contain a plastic bag that fits over a person’s head and a tube the person can use to connect the bag to a tank of helium gas. Although the Oregon assisted suicide law requires a doctor to write a prescription for the lethal drugs people used to take their lives, the kits can be purchased without a prescription, mental health evaluation or any other safeguards.

Sen. Floyd Prozanski, a Eugene Democrat who sponsored the bill, according to AP, said, “We want to send a message, to make it very clear, if you are in the business of marketing or selling suicide kits to people, you will be held accountable.”

Robert Gebbia, executive director of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, told the Associated Press he believes the bill is a first-of-its kind in the nation and it’s “something we’re going to start seeing more of, because there’s just so many of these groups springing up … promoting suicide.”

Klonoski was a graduate of South Eugene High School and the University of Michigan and was suffering from depression, pain and fatigue when he purchased the “helium hood kit” from The Gladd Group of La Mesa, California and rented a helium tank from a local party store. Despite the intent of the bill, Sharlotte Hydorn of El Cajon told AP the publicity surrounding it has increased sales of the kit to 60 a month worldwide and 30 to Oregon residents since January alone.

“I frankly don’t care if that law passes at the end of it,” Hydorn said. “I have no anger and no resentment. Oregon is free to do as Oregon wishes.”

She said she would stop selling the kits to Oregon residents if the law eventually prohibits it. The bill now heads to the state House and then needs the signature of the governor.

Oregon became the first state to legalize assisted suicide in 1994 and the most recent state health department report in January showed every year the number of people who kill themselves under the Oregon first-in-the-nation law increases. The Oregon Public Health Division released the 2010 “Death With Dignity” report and it found 59 reported deaths from the 96 lethal prescriptions that were written with an additional six deaths from lethal prescriptions written in previous years. With the exception of 2009, the number of people dying has gone up every year as has the number of lethal prescriptions written.

Of the 65 patients who died under the law in 2010, most (70.8%) were over age 65 years of age, all were white, well‐educated and had cancer. Almost al of them died at home and were receiving hospice care at the time of their suicide. About one-third were on Medicare at the time.

Since the law was passed in 1997, 525 patients have died from ingesting the lethal cocktail of federally-controlled drugs.

Alex Schadenberg of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition says the report shows people continue to die without dignity.

“The Oregon stats continue to indicate that elder abuse is likely. Those who died by assisted suicide indicated that 61 (93.8%) of the people felt a loss of autonomy, 61 (93.8%) felt a decreasing ability to participate in activities, while 51 (78.5%) of the people felt that they had lost dignity,” he explained.

In addition, just one of the patients was referred for psychiatric or psychological evaluation prior to the suicide — indicating patients may be pushed into suicide without proper mental health care beforehand.