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Asphyxial Suicides Using Plastic Bags

Haddix, T. L. M.D.; Harruff, R. C. M.D., Ph.D.; Reay, D. T. M.D.; Haglund, W. D. Ph.D.

The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology: December 1996 - Volume 17 - Issue 4 - p 308-311

Fifty-three suicides using plastic bags were identified in a review of cases within the jurisdiction of the King County Medical Examiner's Office, Seattle, Washington from 1984 to 1993. We found that this method was used at a greater frequency by individuals older than 50 in comparison with other methods. The most commonly identified stressor leading to the suicide in this population was failing health. The use of this method as a means of “self deliverance,” as advocated by the Hemlock Society, could be inferred in only a small minority of cases where terminal illnesses were identified. This method may be preferred by those older than 50 years because of the ready availability of plastic bags and the relative nonviolence of the death. Analysis of the autopsy findings showed no specific features for this method of suicide. In particular, petechiae, which are often considered a marker of asphyxia, were present in only a small minority of cases (3%). Furthermore, the scene investigation rarely revealed specific features, other than the plastic bag in place. Thus, if the plastic bag were removed after death, the cause and manner of death would be obscure.

From the King County Medical Examiner's Office, Seattle, Washington, U.S.A.

Address correspondence and reprint requests to Dr. Terri L. Haddix, San Diego County Medical Examiner's Office, 5555 Overland Ave., Building 14, San Diego, CA 92123-1219.

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