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Asphyxial Suicide with Helium and a Plastic Bag

Ogden, Russel D. M.A.; Wooten, Rae H. R.N., B.S.N.

The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology: September 2002 - Volume 23 - Issue 3 - p 234-237

Suicide by helium inhalation inside a plastic bag has recently been publicized by right-to-die proponents in “how to” print and videotape materials. This article reports a suicide performed according to this new and highly lethal technique, which is also a potentially undetectable cause of death. Toxicology information could not determine helium inhalation, and drug screening did not reveal data of significance. The cause of death could be determined only by the physical evidence at the scene of death. Helium inhalation can easily be concealed when interested parties remove or alter evidence. To ensure that their deaths are not documented as suicide, some individuals considering assisted suicide may choose helium methods and assistance from helpers. Recent challenges to Oregon’s physician-assisted suicide law may increase interest in helium instead of barbiturates for assisted suicide.

From the Department of Criminology, Kwantlen University College, New Westminster, British Columbia, Canada (R.S.W.) and the Charleston County Coroner’s Office, North Charleston, South Carolina, U.S.A.

Manuscript received January 4, 2002; accepted April 2, 2002.

Address correspondence and reprint requests to Russel D. Ogden, 504 Amess Street, New Westminster, BC V3L 4A9, Canada; e-mail:

© 2002 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.