In 1998, Sampedro ended his life by drinking cyanide that had been provided and prepared by his friends. The award-winning 2004 film The Sea Inside provides a remarkable account of his life and death.
For much of the 20th Century, cyanide was routinely issued to intelligence agents as part of their job. Hitler’s head man in the SS and the Gestapo, Heinrich Himmler, escaped interrogation upon arrest by the British, by swallowing a capsule of cyanide.
Hermann Goering, head of the Luftwaffe, avoided the hangman by taking potassium cyanide the night before the planned execution. Where the purpose is to avoid interrogation and torture, speed of action is essential and cyanide fitted the bill.
The Best Peaceful Pill
Half a century on and it is pentobarbital (Nembutal) that is favoured as an ideal Peaceful Pill. Nembutal is a member of the barbiturate family of drugs that are made from the salts of barbituric acid. These active barbiturate salts have been used medically for many years, mainly as sedatives or sleeping tablets.
In the 1950s, for example, there were more than 20 marketed forms of barbiturate sleeping tablets. Early examples included Veronal, Amytal, Seconal, Soneryl, and, of course, Nembutal. Fifty years ago, Nembutal was a widely prescribed drug, recommended even to help babies sleep, and to calm aching teeth.