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Forensic Sci Int. 2007 Aug 6;170(2-3):139-41. Epub 2007 Jul 12.

Toxicological analysis after asphyxial suicide with helium and a plastic bag.

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  • 1Institute of Legal Medicine, University Hospital Freiburg, Freiburg, Germany. volker.auwaerter@uniklinik-freiburg.de <volker.auwaerter@uniklinik-freiburg.de>


A 23-year-old man was found on a raised hide in lying position, the head wrapped in a plastic bag connected with a helium gas cylinder by a polypropylene tube. The autopsy did not show any specific findings nor did the routine toxicological analysis reveal significant information regarding the cause of death (BAC 0.9 mg/g, diphenhydramine 0.81 microg/ml in heart serum). For the detection of helium in the lungs, gas samples from both lungs were collected by a method ensuring minimal dilution. Gas analyses were performed using a GC-MS with a split-splitless injector and a headspace syringe. As carrier gas the commonly used helium was replaced by nitrogen. Helium was found in clearly elevated concentrations in gas samples from both lungs. Therefore, suffocation by breathing helium enriched, and thus oxygen deficient atmosphere, can strongly be assumed as the cause of death.

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