Suicide by painful chemical gas – not the way to go!

Exit has received information that persons are resorting to risky methods of rational (or irrational) suicide. The trend to use chemicals began in third-world countries and with information coming from Japan, but appears to be spreading to the Western world.

A man and a woman have been found gassed to death with toxic chemical in a car on a rural road in Buckinghamshire, South East England. The bodies were found by a woman walking her dog in a remote lane in Chalfont St Giles. Their Ford Ka had been sealed from the inside and marked with a handwritten sign indicating that it contained hazardous materials. It is not known whether this is a case of rational suicide or simply tragic suicide. It bears a worryingly similar resemblance to two people who met on the internet and died using chemicals in a parked car some months ago.

Why do people resort to potentially distressing means of death when there are safe and secure means of engineering one’s own exit? A clue came from one of our workshop participants, who has long-frequented suicide ‘chat-rooms.’ “They read about helium methods from a high profile ‘Dr Death’ but who then offers to sell expensive pieces of kit to ‘ensure’ the method works properly. When they give up on such advice, they turn to chat-rooms and combining household chemicals is one of the methods discussed.”

Exit cannot compete with these high profile gurus who have almost daily headlines, and workshops in the UK that are frequently cancelled due to unfavourable publicity. Neither do we post methodology on our websites or frequent suicide chat-rooms. But it is a growing problem. If people cannot find us, they turn to whoever they can find.

Last September, Joanne Lee and Steve Lumb were found dead in a Vauxhall Astra, with signs on the windows warning of toxic chemicals. They were parked on an industrial estate in Braintree, Essex. Police believe they met for the first time just hours before, and died by mixing chemicals in a bucket to make a lethal gas. A week later, two young women gassed themselves with chemicals in a copycat suicide pact.

At least 500 Japanese men, women and children took their lives in the first half of 2008 by following instructions posted on Japanese websites, which describe how to mix bathroom chemicals to create a poisonous gas. One site included an application to calculate the correct portions of each ingredient based on room volume, along with a PDF download of a ready-made warning sign to alert neighbours and emergency workers to the deadly hazard. By 2009 it had spread to the USA, as well as becoming widespread in India (where genuine helium tanks are harder to obtain than in the West). We would like to stress that this is not a pleasant or peaceful death. The most common gas produced by such chemicals is hydrogen sulfide, which has unpleasant enough symptoms; but in cases where people have got the combination wrong, hydrogen cyanide has been produced, leading to an even more unpleasant death. Side-effects may include seizures, gasping breaths, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, headache, lockjaw, convulsions and hallucinations, chest tightness and respiratory arrest. Exit strongly urges all readers to avoid attempting such methods, whatever the circumstances.

Brooks Newmark, Conservative MP for Braintree, Essex, called on the Government to campaign against DIY suicide websites. She said: “We need to do far more to deal with these suicide websites which unfortunately lead to tragedies like this.  . . . It’s not a question of more regulation but of better regulation and also figuring out how we can close down websites such as these. Suicide pacts such as these are a trend that has come over from America on the internet – it’s a viral communication in a very negative sense. Having internet sites out there explaining how to commit suicide with over the counter chemicals is wrong. We as a Government need to think of mechanisms within the European Union to try to close them down. It’s difficult to control the internet but we need to try.”

A noble aim, but sadly uninformed. Such knowledge is passed on not on the websites of reputable right-to-die organisations, but between individuals in chat-rooms or discussion forums. In other words, there may be nothing there one minute and then it appears the next. So what can be done? Firstly, the law needs to be reformed to recognise choice is not just for those who can afford to go to Dignitas in Switzerland – but at the same time do so in a caring environment that will endeavour to offer the best medical or social support that might be needed by desperate individuals or the vulnerable. By keeping assisted suicide ‘underground,’ desperate people have little or no-one to turn to.

Promoting horrific ways of ending one’s life is unacceptable. Not surprisingly, many of the individuals who have used awful chemical suicide methods are possibly neither unbearably or unrelievably ill, and have not taken the considered time to contact a responsible group such as Exit in Scotland or ERGO or Final Exit Network in the USA. Maybe they just needed a breathing space – maybe someone to talk to such as the Samaritans. Maybe they needed social support, police protection from harassment, or better medical care for their problems. But if, after all else failed, they still wanted to end their life, would it not have been better to do so peacefully and painlessly, and with the support of the community, the professions, and of loved ones?

By refusing to listen to such persons with an open mind, society condemns them to seek desperate and often very terrible answers.

http://www.samaritans.org/ Talk to the Samaritans
Telegraph – Stranger suicide fears after two people found dead in car (28 Feb ’11)
Telegraph – Suicide pact strangers ‘met on the internet’ (22 Sep ’10)
Joanne Lee suicide pact: the comfort of stranger – a psychoanalyst’s view
Chemical suicide pact duo were strangers – newspaper report
Copycat chemical suicide pact – The Sun
Dangerous Japanese Suicide Technique Creeps Into U.S. – American newspaper
Woman in chemical suicide pact – Mail Online
Hydrogen Sulfide Suicide – Chemistry Blog
Hydrogen Sulfide – signs, symptoms, treatments
The Chemical Suicide Phenomenon – analysis of symptoms
I want to gas myself in car – Sun newspaper
Putney chemical suicide woman had been stalked – The Mirror
Chemical suicide pact woman – with some MP responses

n.b. The links above are provided in good faith to dissuade persons from attempting such horrific suicide methods and are not known to contain instructions sufficient for copycat suicides. Exit is not responsible for external sites, but if the information on any of the linked sites is made dangerous, please inform Exit and the links will be removed. Exit only works within the law and does not provide one-to-one suicide information, for instance by phone or email. Responsible advice can be obtained from our workshops or literature. Exit considers safe, reliable and painless methods and, with its extensive research, does not recommend or see any need for custom pieces of equipment costing large amounts of money.

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One Response to Suicide by painful chemical gas – not the way to go!

  1. Almost two years ago, someone anonymously posted a comment on my blog (which has a lot of danish-language content on right-to-die issues), with detailed instructions on using hydrogen sulfide for suicide, including what products to use. Of course, I rejected the comment – and even wrote a blog post to warn about the problems.

    What I also noticed was that the exact same comment had been posted on a lot of other blogs and news sites. I just did a search for some words from the comment, and can see that the recipe is still up on a lot of pages, ironically including a news article about the recipe “being purged from the Internet at police request”.

    I’m wondering how much harm the anonymous spreaders of the bad recipe has done. Police actions to “suppress” the info may even have lead them to “expand” the campaign. The Internet has killed “secrecy” as a viable regulatory strategy.

    Responsible information on “self-help death” is indeed a lot better.

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