The helium debate has reignited. One major manufacturer has announced that all their “balloon helium” will now be supplied as an 80/20 helium-air mixture. As helium has been a principal method of choice in rational self-euthanasia for several years, this will distress many people. Great peace of mind results from knowing that one can eventually, near the end of one’s life, choose the exact time and manner of one’s departure. More and more people want to have control over their last moments. Simply knowing when enough is enough, and that after a wonderful life the final curtain should occur with dignity and a sense of decorum, is a great reassurance.
[readers please note: this article does NOT give instructions on how to commit suicide]
Changes of policy by balloon gas suppliers will not affect persons who have already purchased (older) tanks. Neither should it unduly worry Exit members, who have assimilated material from our books and workshops empowering them with several different methods for handling an unknown future. As fast as intelligent, responsible individuals make provisions for their own self-determination: in life, and at the end of life, so will unexpected circumstances, unexpected mental and physical deterioration, or changes in governmental and company policies attempt to rob them of that very right to self-determination.
We have noted previously, mostly in reports from other countries, especially India (or in isolated cases in the U.S.A.), unscrupulous retailers tampering with, or refilling canisters to be sold as “balloon helium gas” while cutting corners. (It saves them money, for one thing.) Now, that process has been formalised. It has been given a respectable stamp by Balloon Time, one of the world’s leading suppliers of domestic market helium canisters. Whether they do so out of greed, or to save the planet, or to appease lobbyists, makes little difference. Eighty per cent helium is enough to float a balloon: though not as well as one filled with 100 per cent helium. Clearly commercial helium users, such as those that mount big public displays, are likely prefer helium that is helium, rather than a diluted substitute.
Helium has a lifting capacity of about .84 ounces per cubic foot. A half-helium 12-inch balloon can lift about .22 ounces. Since a 12-inch balloon weighs less than this amount, a half-helium balloon will still float, though not as well as a completely filled one, and it will deflate faster.
Balloon Time, a major supplier, has issued a statement to say that in the future all of their “balloon gas” will be diluted with 20 per cent air. “Our helium is rated from 98-99.99 percent pure. However, due to global helium supply issues, we are now mixing helium with air. All tanks will have 80 percent or more helium. This allows us to deliver a quality product at an affordable price.” It is not known yet whether companies like BOC, another major gas suppliers, will follow suit. BOC have recently introduced a new style of disposable helium canister. A 2003 BOC safety sheet from the KentGas website lists the contents of their balloon gas as ‘helium and air’ although this is probably to distinguish the contents from medical grade helium (rather than suggest dilution). Certainly many people have successfully used helium, painlessly and peacefully, since 2003! Also, on another gas supplier’s website, we noted that the data sheet lists contents as “100 per cent helium,” adding that “concentration is nominal.” Balloon Time however supplies many UK and USA companies, including the Tesco chain of supermarkets.
Self-euthanasia with a ‘helium hood’ is based on a principle of displacing air with inert gas (developed in the first instance probably by Bruce Dunn in our 1995 collaboration, Beyond Final Exit, on at least one occasion by Dr. Kevorkian, on one or two occasions by Dignitas and Switzerland, and then Derek Humphry and most right-to-die groups as a ‘best method.’). Both scientifically, and by numerous carefully-controlled eye-witness accounts, death by pure helium is peaceful. More peaceful than many ways that some persons may now even resort to as the “helium method” appears to lose some of its standing. Yet almost any inert gas will do: there is very little difference. Nitrogen, a popular alternative, produces exactly the same effect. These gases are inert: they have no chemical reaction with the body. At most there could be a minute biological reaction: but the cause of death in all cases is simple and sudden lack of oxygen to the brain.
Exit members are clear thinking individuals that look to the future. They mostly develop contingency plans years ahead. They investigate, keep up with information we provide, in books and workshops, and make adequate provision for themselves in a careful, sensible way. They do not expect instructions given out on the Internet to the unwary and neither do we provide such. Dying is a serious business and worth investigating. That some gas companies want to make it harder will hardly deter intelligent people from giving it the calm foresight and attention that it requires. In that knowledge, one can relax and enjoy life more fully. The key to the “door marked Exit” is always always there – and in a safe place for the day it might be needed (if and when that day should come).
Example of a helium purity analysis machine (Analox)
Video of a person testing nitrogen purity (Youtube video)
Suicide By Asphyxiation Due to Helium Inhalation (Am J Forensic Med Pathol 2010)
Asphyxial Suicide with Helium and a Plastic Bag (Am J Forensic Med Pathol 2002)
The new Balloon Time FAQ
BOC safety data sheet
A Patients Rights page with facts about helium (U.S.A.)
Physics of helium lift (p.14).
What Happens If You Put Half Air & Half Helium in a Balloon?