Home-made helium suicide of man with depression

A father of several children had meticulously planned his own suicide an inquest heard last Thursday, June 17 using helium. 46-year-old Joseph Phoenix used a plastic bag, a head band, and tubing linked to a helium bottle.

Before ending his life, Mr Phoenix:

  • planned his suicide to the smallest detail, including attempts not to upset his family and to ensure his body wasn’t found until he had completed his actions.
  • sent a detailed email was to Kent Police, saying where to find the body in the apartment, as well as information on keys and a letter detailing his next of kin.

The Coroner ruled that Mr Pheonix took his own life while suffering from a debilitating mental illness. It is understood that this included severe depression and bi-polar disease.

The combination of severe depression and bi-polar disease is one particularly associated with suicide. Persons suffering with such such disease include several celebrities that have ended their own lives, including Sylvia Plath, Kurt Cobain, and Spalding Gray. Sometimes it can be treated with medication, but the existence of depression or other mental illness is not in itself an indication that suicide is irrational. Exit believes that legislative reform to allow assisted suicide in exceptional cases would make it easier for people to seek unbiased support. In that way, if someone decided to end their life, it would be clear that a) all other options had been fully considered and  b) that if they decided to end their own life it could be done openly, with their family, friends and loved ones with them if they wish, rather in secret. Exit would urge anyone suffering unbearably to seek all possible palliative options before making a decision, but would like to see a light of hope for those individuals for whom their suffering is unrelievable.


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6 Responses to Home-made helium suicide of man with depression

  1. Ben Phoenix says:

    This was my father. He has three children not four.

  2. Kevin Lipps says:

    I know it is sad that he took his life, but depression in many ways is very painful for a person. A “terminal” illness should not be the limits of a condition to qualify for euthanasia. If your life is in an unbearable condition, and there is no major progress made in the past to change the status to a desired state, and the odds is life will not become bearable in the present, and future for an extended period of time, then that person should be granted access to euthanasia.

    Euthanasia is not about killing, but treatment. Treatment must follow with the guidelines of the Hippocratic oath, which is to provide satisfactory treatment for that person. If there is no known treatment methods to change the status of the patient with depression, or any other psychological or neurological state, then it becomes vital that the medical professional transitions into the proper treatment of euthanasia. If a person will live with an unbearable state of life, then it is harm, if that patient is forced to continue the pain and suffering. This is a reason why euthanasia must include mental and psychological criteria, so that patient can receive the necessary treatment.

    • This indeed is close to our ideological approach, which is fairly close to that of the Netherlands and Belgium. Suicide prevention and rational self-suicide (or self-euthanasia) are both about enabling. Neither are perfect. We feel that with suitable legislation more people would feel free to come forward and get the proper support they need, whether to overcome depression or seek safe euthanasia / assisted suicide in a proper setting (which in countries that allow this, usually includes deep involvement with the family). Unfortunately, most legislative attempts, going back all the way even to 1935, focus on ‘terminal conditions’: which is seen as politically more likely to succeed yet only helps a very small proportion of people.

      • Ben Phoenix says:

        Interestingly enough, schemes in other european countries which allow euthanasia have found that the majority of people who’re accepted never return. Which indicates to me that this would result in more people seeking to overcome, that having the option helps them to realise they do want to live.

      • Some interesting points about European countries, though of course statistics don’t always mean much to an individual case. In the Netherlands, many simply want the reassurance that it is there if they need it. At Dignitas in Switzerland, on the other hand, extensive medical checks, and pysch evaluations in many cases, are required before travel, so that most people who go there simply for assisted suicide are both accepted and decide that it is what they want. Both Netherlands and Belgium have ‘back-up’ schemes. A friend there who is both a philosopher and qualified counsellor, investigates cases on a very individual basis to help people find what it is that they really and truly want. Many of our own members say that the knowledge gives them the courage to help them to face an uncertain future longer, rather than giving up. It is, however, a very difficult area, and all we can hope is that people do their best, in whatever area they work or find themselves in.

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