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 used rarely by physicians. He concludes that this may be due to their different levels of access to poisons.
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. Today, cyanide is not used in any country where euthanasia / assisted suicide legislation is in place.
Nevertheless, cyanide salts have some very positive properties and may play a role in ensuring people have control over their lives. Positives include the fact that very small quantities of the substance is needed. and that administration is easy. Long shelf life and rapid action are further important considerations. Ingesting one gram of potassium cyanide in the form of a simple, single capsule is seen by some people as offering a very satisfactory 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.
However, cyanide is also now recognised as a compound of chemical weapons with associated heavy penalties. The legal risks associated with obtaining this substance may outweigh any possible end of life benefit. Internet claims of availability have also been found to be false. Online purchases must be tested.