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Toxicology texts of death by cyanide commonly refer to a rapid collapse and loss of consciousness if a large enough dose is absorbed. Occasionally convulsions occur after consciousness is lost. In his book Suicide and Attempted Suicide: Methods and Consequences, Geo Stone makes the observation that while cyanide might be commonly used by suicidal chemists, it is rarely by physicians. He concludes that this may be due to their different levels of access to poisons (Stone, 1999).
In 1995 when the guidelines for the Northern Territory Rights of the Terminally Ill Act (ROTI) were being developed the use of cyanide was not considered; better drugs (the barbiturates) were available and cyanide is not used in any country where euthanasia legislation is now in place.
Nevertheless, cyanide salts have some very positive properties of and play a role in ensuring people have control over their lives. In particular, the small quantities needed, easy administration, long shelf life, and rapid action are often seen as deciding factors. Taking a gram of potassium cyanide as a simple single capsule to provide a reliable death is seen by many to offer the best means of ensuring control at the end of life.
The Availability of Cyanide
Soluble cyanide salts have traditionally been hard to obtain unless one has a contact in the industries where these substances are used. These salts are heavily regulated and restricted, and the public is well aware of the toxic properties of cyanide. .
The advent of internet suppliers of sodium or potassium cyanide has increased the importance of these substances in providing a reliable end of life option.