There are two fairly distinct groups of people who consider suicide, or do end their life by suicide – the first is those who very regrettably feel unable to bear what essentially is, or should be, a temporary trauma – no money, no girlfriend, terrible news, and so on (or some other type of deep depression). The second is that group of adults thinking rationally and who like to be in control of all aspects of their own life where possible and, when faced with the prospect of suffering that is neither temporary no relievable, want to decide the manner and timing of their own departure from life.
This organisation takes both groups very seriously. Empowering the second group with the knowledge often gives them the courage to live longer – a fact we have known for many years but which has also recently been commented on by a leading news magazine. At the same time, suicide prevention/intervention for the first group is equally important. Their true will is to live. But what we also know is that, if the country makes one means of suicide less available, the overall suicide rate is not affected. Desperate, suicidal people just use a different means.
This does not deter some suicide prevention groups, who seem to think that banning the means will be an answer. We don’t agree, but we do feel that knowledge of the less desirable consequences of some methods may encourage people to think twice, to gain a breathing space where they can maybe get a new perspective. For the terminally ill – those who have already explored all the palliative options and found them lacking – this will generally not be an issue.
What we don’t do is give specific instructions on our websites. Some studies have suggested that having instant access to information might encourage suicide. We find the evidence on this inconclusive, but we prefer to be safe, knowing that persons seeking self-deliverance will generally both choose sensible methods and spend the time needed to read a book on the subject, making sure they do not incur further unnecessary anguish and or self-inflicted pain.
In Five Last Acts II, we look at the most effective and painless methods of self-deliverance and go into considerable detail (with step by step diagrams) on the nuts and bolts. We are not going to do that here. The information is easily available online (sadly) but not here. Everyone knows (or can very easily find) the basics through newspaper accounts of persons who have ended their lives (for whatever reason) using helium or household chemicals. But this blog entry has two objectives:
1) To comment briefly on some of the methods most accepted by ‘right-to-die’ societies, for those already familiar with such literature, and
2) Hopefully to dissuade persons thinking of using household chemicals or other noxious methods.
We are not here to tell or persuade anyone what to do or not do. That is up to the individual to decide for him or herself. We hope people only choose wisely.
Helium is the method that is most unanimously favoured by the four main self-deliverance organisations worldwide. It requires a little preparation but is straightforward and painless.
Compression is an emergency method that can be used with no special equipment, for instance, if one is confined to hospital. Although very simple in essence, at self-deliverance workshops only about half to two-thirds of participants were able to understand and apply it correctly in dress-rehearsals.
Drugs. Many people think that taking a large overdose of whatever sleeping pills or tranquillizers they happen to have will be fatal. This is far from being correct. Most people attempting suicide in this manner simply wake up again, putting themselves through a lot of misery for nothing. A ‘drugs alone’ option involves either very careful planning with specific combinations of drugs or else getting barbiturates from developing countries (barbiturates are an older, very powerful sleeping drug, that have largely been removed from the market in the West – it is how Marilyn Monroe died). Obtaining barbiturates in such a manner risks imprisonment as they are classed as highly controlled narcotics.
Plastic bags and sleeping tablets. Before the days of helium and hydrogen sulphide suicides, this is the suicide option that most people will remember from the newspaper accounts. While it is the ‘traditional’ self-deliverance method, many people failed, due to incorrect application.
Other methods. These, the last selection of the “Five Acts” options that are detailed in great depth in our literature, covers methods that might be possible for some people but not others. The main one is starvation from stopping eating and drinking. Contrary to popular belief, this needs considerable preparation and expert all-round support. It is a very dangerous method to attempt otherwise and can lead to horrific death. With suitable advance preparation and nursing support it can be a peaceful option for suitable individuals. It is the cultural and lifestyle choice for end-of-life in Jain some communities to this day. Two “popular” methods deserve some mention, both originating (in their present form) from Japan. The first is carbon monoxide poisoning. People in the West used to use this way years ago. It was the “car in the garage and engine running” scenario. Now, the law requires cars are fitted with catalytic convertors that remove most carbon dioxide. But the big danger of carbon dioxide poisoning is that if it goes wrong – and there are many possibilities for it to go wrong – the person is left brain-damaged. The more modern version involves charcoal burners but carries similar risks and is best avoided. The other method – that you will have read about in the newspapers and on this website – is mixing household chemicals to produce hydrogen sulphide. This seems to have grown apace as a copycat suicide method, especially in America, but is nonetheless quite horrific. If the person is very lucky, death is almost instantaneous (as promised by amateur websites). If not, the person dies as the gas burns away their lungs and they choke. Inhaling the gas in an enclosed space (in an attempt to get enough of it and quickly enough) leaves emergency personnel at risk. Many have been hospitalised, even where warning notices have been left. Hydrogen sulphide being a heavy gas that does not disperse easily, passers-by or people in the neighbourhood are also put at risk.
It is often said that most depression can be successfully treated with modern drugs. Such medicines are prescribed millions of times around the world. But how can a pill help you if you have no money, a broken relationship, or no home? These are real questions that have to be faced. Medicine is not the same as having a job. But what they often can do is give people a breathing space, to take off some of the mental-emotional pressure. Where one day there appears to be no hope, a little later, after successful treatment, a person genuinely realises there are other possibilities open. If you are feeling depressed and suicidal, it really is worth chatting in confidence to your doctor. In fact, just chatting to someone. Talking often makes a difference. And sometimes, readjusting the chemical balance that makes things look so black allows rational options to appear – ones that are at least worthy of consideration.
For persons facing a terminal illness, the types of mental challenges are rather different. As death approaches, the choices for action, our power of making and implementing decisions, often becomes less. Knowing – not guessing, but knowing – having the safe and secure knowledge about the things mentioned here, can often restore a sense of power and hope. No-one throws away life easily – the will to live is strong. But if my prognosis was to die today in a peaceful and dignified way by my own hand, or suffer until the weekend with unendurable pain, then it is nice to know that I could put my choice into action. Knowledge is often power. So while reading the book (or several books) on self-deliverance can make you forewarned and forearmed, don’t forget the other types of knowledge you need to acquire. A deep investigation of the likely course of your disease and all the palliative care options that can be obtained. The best pain control and the limits of that pain control (often better pain-control is available than that which is offered, so make a fuss.) And, if you are facing a long illness that involves a major change of lifestyle – say in a wheelchair or bed-bound – talk to a variety of people – those in a similar situation if possible – and maybe understand different ways of looking at things.
We hope that no-one reading this will feel they have to take their own life. But if, after everything we say, you feel it is the only option, then we hope you achieve your goal with less suffering and not more.