February 28, 2024

Helium suicides at Dignitas described in leading journal

Important statistics also available.
Mannequin with helium maskThe gruesome details
of 4 assisted suicides with helium bags at the Swiss suicide clinic, Dignitas, are
described in the latest issue of the Journal of Medical Ethics. Three
researchers – from Canada, the US and the Netherlands, wanted to draw on the
experience of Dignitas. Their reason for their interest is not quite clear, but
their methocs were approved by an ethics research board at Kwantlen Polytechnic
University, in British Columbia.

The researchers
watched videos of the demise of 4 people who breathed helium through a mask
under the supervision of Dignitas volunteers. (The deaths are taped and given
to the police so that they can check that every detail of the demise is legal.)
Three of the deaths took place fairly quickly and in about 5 to 8 minutes all
gasping had finished. The fourth, however, took  at least 38 minutes and the volunteers were clearly nervous.

Dignitas normally uses
a lethal dose of sodium pentobarbital. But in 2008 the Zurich authorities said
that the patient had to be seen by a doctor more than once before the suicide.
The head of Dignitas, Ludwig Minelli, thought that this unduly restricted his
clients’ autonomy, and started using helium, which did not require the
intervention of doctors. The authors of the article believe that the use of
helium could help demedicalise assisted suicide, although they believe that a
bag over the head is superior to a mask, which allows some oxygen to enter.

One of the most useful
aspects of the article is a complete
of deaths at Dignitas from May 1998 to December 2009 (click on
link). There have been 1041 deaths, with nearly 60% coming from Germany, 14% from
Great Britain, 11% from Switzerland and 9% from France. People from about 30
countries have come to die at Dignitas. ~ Journal of Medical
Ethics, March

Michael Cook
assisted suicide