Volume 45, Issue 3 (May 2000)
Suffocation Using Plastic Bags: A Retrospective Study of Suicides in Ontario, Canada
One hundred and ten cases of suicidal suffocation using a plastic bag were identified in the files of the Office of the Chief Coroner of Ontario, Canada, between 1993 and 1997. The records were reviewed to determine the demographic characteristics of this group compared with all cases of suicide in Ontario, the scene information, autopsy findings and toxicology results. Most suicides occurred in people over 60 years of age, with older women making up a considerable proportion of cases as compared with other methods of suicide. In 40% of cases the deceased was suffering from a serious illness. Autopsy findings were usually minimal, with facial, conjunctival and visceral petechiae present in a minority of cases. One or more drugs were detected in the blood in 92.6% of cases where toxicologic testing was performed. Benzodiazepines, diphenhydramine and antidepressants were the most common drugs found, with diphenhydramine the most common drug present at an elevated concentration. Information at the scene from “right to die” societies was uncommon. One quarter of decedents took additional measures, besides the use of drugs or alcohol, to ensure the rapidity, certainty or comfort of their death. This study further elucidates the characteristics of this uncommon method of suicide. It emphasizes additional scene findings, such as the presence of dust masks, physical restraints and modification of the plastic bag that may be of use to death investigators in determining the correct manner of death.