This content requires Adobe Flash Player version
Either you do not have Adobe Flash Player installed,
or your version is too old,
or there is a problem with your Flash installation and we were unable to detect it.
The death of Spaniard Ramon Sampedro in 1998 and the subsequent award-winning film The Sea Inside has focused attention on the use of cyanide as an effective means by which a seriously ill person can put an end to their suffering.
Sampedro, a quadriplegic since a diving accident at age 26, ended his life by drinking a glass of water in which soluble potassium cyanide (KCN) had been dissolved. He died quickly, and peacefully. Many people who have seen The Sea Inside have asked why these cyanide salts are not more frequently used by those who are seriously ill to provide a peaceful death. In this chapter we explain some of the difficulties involved in using cyanide and provide some answers. It is not unreasonable to expect that the use of cyanide will increase in the future, and it may yet become an acceptable form of the ‘Peaceful Pill’.
Some background to cyanide
In 1814, the carbon-nitrogen (CN) ‘radical’ common to a number of chemical substances was isolated and given the name ‘cyanogen’ by the French chemist Joseph Gay Lussac. The subsequent name ‘the blue generator’ referred to the place of the CN radical in a number of chemicals that were used as blue dyes; the Prussian Blue of blueprints (iron ferro cyanide) is perhaps the best known.