The Vancouver Sun reported on 8 Dec 07 that the helium in an ‘exit bag’ is new choice for assisted suicide for patients who are dying or suffering from an end-stage incurable illness.
Criminologist Russel Ogden said that at least 19 people
in B.C. have committed suicide by using helium since 1999, according to
statistics compiled for him by the Coroner’s Service of B.C.
Ogden acknowledged that he has no way of knowing whether these people
committed suicide because they had a terminal or progressively
debilitating illness — or because they were mentally ill.
But the figures, Ogden said, reflect a trend in the underground
right-to-die community — which he calls the “death counterculture” —
toward asphyxiation with helium for people ravaged by incurable suffering.
“What these B.C. statistics indicate is that a new method for suicide
has entered the public consciousness.”
Ogden said the technique of asphyxiation by helium inhalation first
gained public exposure in the assisted-suicide community with the
release in 2002 of the third edition of ‘Final Exit,‘ the landmark book
written by Hemlock Society founder Derek Humphry, a primer on suicide
and assisted suicide.
Information about the helium option has since been disseminated through
the Internet, including YouTube, and various handbooks, he added.
The helium method basically involves a person placing an “exit bag” over
his head with the helium entering the bag through a tube.
Helium is seen as a swift, highly lethal and painless way to die without
involving physicians or drugs. Helium is also nearly undetectable in
toxicological probes, which is important for people assisting a suicide
because of the potential of criminal charges.
Kwantlen criminologist Ogden said the 19 deaths recorded by the
Coroner’s Service under-represent the number of deaths in B.C. involving
“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Ogden, who has researched
the assisted-death movement for many years.
Ogden said the coroner’s service figures only involve cases where
equipment related to the use of helium was found.
The figures don’t include cases where death is assisted by activists who
remove all equipment or evidence so that the death is attributed to an
underlying illness or undetermined causes, Ogden said.
“I have data provided to me by activists in the right-to-die movement
between 1999 and 2002 on over 100 helium-related cases in North America
that were unreported in any forensic literature.”
Ogden said helium inhalation has become the preferred method among
activists in the Final Exit Network, an underground* U.S. group which
helps people kill themselves.
Final Exit is an offshoot* of the much larger Compassion and Choices,
which lobbies for political changes such as the Oregon model of
physician-assisted suicide for dying patients.
The best-known recent case of assisted suicide in B.C. involved Evelyn
Martens, a Vancouver Island grandmother and right-to-die activist, who
was charged with assisting two women to commit suicide.
One of the women, Monique Charest, a former nun, was found dead in her
Duncan apartment in 2002. Evidence at trial revealed that Charest used
the helium method to end her life.
Martens, who was an executive member of the Right to Die Network of
Canada and an agent for “Last Rights” Publications, was acquitted in 2004.
Ogden, who teaches a course at Kwantlen College called “Socio-legal Aspects of
Assisted Death,” said the emergence of new methods such as helium
inhalation don’t appear to spur any rise in the number of suicides.
“What we know is that when a new method is found, people simply change
their methods. The statistical incidence of suicide doesn’t increase.”
The emergence of helium as a method stems from Canadian and American
laws prohibiting assisted suicide — except in the state of Oregon.
“It certainly shows that necessity is the mother of all invention,” said
for ‘Final Exit’ paperback, DVD, or digital download.
*The Final Exit Network is not an ‘underground’ organization as the above writer says. It is a fully registered group incorporated in Georgia IN 2003. It may not be known to everybody because it does its humanitarian work quietly and with respect. *Neither is it an offshoot of Compassion and Choices.
Visit its website at www.finalexitnetwork.org