When Jake Klonoski got no response from his younger brother's bedroom as he called him to dinner, he had no idea what he would find when he picked the bedroom lock to investigate. 29-year old Nick Klonoski had apparently taken his own life using a "suicide kit" that he had ordered by mail from a company in California. The kit basically consisted of Derek Humphrey's book Final Exit, as well as plastic tubing and a plastic bag with a collar to be fitted around the neck. The company providing the kit, the Gladd Group, charged Klonoski $60.00 U.S. for the kit and advertise their products online and by mail order. They reportedly sold more than 1,700 kits last year alone grossing approximately $100,000.00 U.S.
Klonoski, a University of Michigan graduate and the son of U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken, had been suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome and depression for years. According to family members, he had been reading Final Exit on the day of his suicide. A store receipt found in his room by police indicated that he had rented a large tank of helium from a party goods store near his home which he had apparently used to asphyxiate himself. Following Klonoski's suicide, police raided the home of the 91-year old California woman behind the Gladd Group as part of their investigation. Sharlotte Hydorn defended the sale of the kits and stressed that she was not responsible for how they were used and that they were only meant for people in pain. Since current legislation is ambiguous concerning the legal definition for "assisting" suicide, the only charge that Hydorn is facing at this time is mail fraud.
Suicide kits are readily available and instructions for their use can be found online through blogs and YouTube videos. Alan Berman, executive director of the American Association for Suicidology, calls mailing the kits immoral and equivalent to "basically handing someone a gun" without checking on their history or whether they are a minor. The Final Exit Network has more than 3,000 members nationwide and maintains that any mentally competent adult has the right to commit suicide. While the network has faced legal battles in the past in states with assisted suicide legislation, they also have the assistance of civil rights groups defending the network's publication of suicide manuals and "exit guides" to help family members conceal evidence that a suicide has occurred. The actual number of suicides using helium hoods remains unknown at this time although suicide rights advocates insist that they number in the hundreds.
Oregon legislators are considering new legislation based on the Klonoski case which would make it a criminal offense to "sell or transfer any substance or object to another person" knowing that it would be used for suicide. The proposed legislation has received unanimous approval by the Oregon Senate and state legislators are seeking to tighten the bill's language to make prosecution easier.
While assisted suicide has been controversial since Jack Kevorkian made it a mainstream topic in the 1990s, the sale of helium hoods and similar "suicide kits" has led to a rekindling of the assisted suicide debate across the U.S. Ironically, Oregon was one of the first U.S. states to pass physician-assisted suicide legislation although assisted suicide is restricted to terminally ill patients only. The legal process of physician-assisted suicide also requires multiple doctor consultations and a possible psychological assessment before the suicide is allowed to proceed. In 2010 alone, there have been 65 physician-assisted suicides in Oregon.