LOS ANGELES (CBS) — Meet Sharlotte. Like a lot of grandmothers, she likes to keep busy. But while some grannies sit and knit scarves and afghans, this 91-year-old has a decidedly different hobby.
She makes suicide masks.
Sharlotte started making and selling these suicide kits out of her cozy Southern California home after watching her husband die a slow and painful death from colon cancer. She blames doctors for keeping him alive.
“It was terrible to treat people that way… To make them suffer to the bitter end,” Sharlotte said.
Sharlotte, who sells her controversial kits for $60, demonstrated how they work in front of our cameras.
“To die with this helium just takes you a couple of minutes and [you] die peacefully,” said Sharlotte, who only wants to be identified by her first name. She also didn’t want her face to appear on camera.
A loophole in California law makes selling the kits legal, but the ethical controversy remains heated. (For the record, what Sharlotte does is not illegal because she is not present when the person takes their own life.)
Sharlotte insists she is no Kervorkian-in-the-making. She told CBS2′s Sharon Tay that she just wants the terminally ill to be able to end it … on their terms. When they are ready.
She wants to make sure no one has to suffer like her late husband or the people he left behind.
Sharlotte sells the kits to people all over the world. She insists she is also not doing it for the money. “I do it because I care for people.”
Three states have enacted a “Death with Dignity” law. In California assisted suicide is still illegal, but proponents of the suicide mask are trying to change all that.
Opponents to changing the law point to one of Sharlotte’s clients, a 29-year-old Oregon native. He wasn’t suffering from a terminal illness. He opted out because he was tired of dealing with his chronic depression. His suicide touched off a major controversy.
And now, a group called Californians Against Assisted Suicide wants to stop Sharlotte and her masks.
She is not deterred. “Whatever a person wants to do with their life,” she says, “is their right. They need the right to make that decision.”