In response to the general prohibition of euthanasia and assisted suicide, some right-to-die activists have developed non-medical methods to covertly hasten death. One such method is a "debreather," a closed system breathing device that laypersons can use to induce hypoxia for persons seeking euthanasia or assisted suicide. This article presents data from nine cases where the debreather was used on humans, resulting in eight deaths. The covert properties of the debreather make it almost impossible for medical examiners and law enforcers to detect its use. Clandestine behavior circumvents legal forms of social control and challenges models for regulated, medicalized euthanasia and assisted suicide. The debreather compromises the ability of forensic investigators to assign an accurate cause and manner of death, and this raises implications for law enforcement, vital statistics, and research into the causes of death. The involvement of lay organizations in euthanasia and assisted suicide means that effective social policy on right-to-die issues must take into account their activities as well as those of other health professionals.
Comment In: Death Stud. 2010 Apr;34(4):318-2424479189