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Carbon Monoxide (CO) is one of the most lethal gases known. Its toxicity is due to its ability to strongly bind with haemoglobin which greatly reduces the oxygen-carrying capacity of a person’s blood. Areas of the brain sensitive to ischaemia (low oxygen level) are affected severely and a rapid, peaceful death is the common result. The gas is particularly dangerous, as it is a colourless, odourless and a non-irritating gas. Without specialized monitoring equipment, there is no way of knowing that carbon monoxide is present.
Death by poisoning from carbon monoxide can be reliable, quick and peaceful, provided the concentration of the inhaled gas is sufficiently high. In the 1990s, Dr Jack Kevorkian helped more than 100 seriously ill people to end their lives peacefully, nearly half of whom used carbon monoxide. Dr Kevorkian used a cylinder of compressed carbon monoxide (9% CO in Nitrogen). The person wanting to die switched on the gas at the cylinder and breathed through a loose-fitting face mask. A few deep breaths of the carbon monoxide-nitrogen mixture and the person lost consciousness and died quickly. Dr Kevorkian would then switch off the gas and remove the cylinder and face mask. Those present at these deaths described the effectiveness and peacefulness of the approach.