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Further Observations on the Speed of Death in Hanging

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Given that most fatal hangings are suicidal and occur in locations that have been selected to conceal this activity (thus maximizing the chances of a lethal outcome), there has been very little corroboration of the speed with which unconsciousness and death may occur. A 35-year-old male is reported who committed suicide by hanging immediately after talking to his spouse. Police investigations confirmed her reliability as a witness indicating that lethal anoxia in this case had occurred within a very short time (most likely in less than 1 min) of suspension. The speed with which death may result from hanging not only gives an insight into fatal pathophysiological mechanisms, but also provides useful information for situations where a lethal outcome is to be avoided, or is not intended. For example, individuals at risk of suicide who are being monitored in institutional facilities need to be constantly under direct visual surveillance as significant hypoxia can be rapidly induced, parents and caregivers with infants and children in potentially unsafe sleeping environments need to realize how swiftly death or irreversible anoxic brain damage may occur from neck compression, and those who engage in recreational asphyxia should be informed just how quickly a fatal outcome may ensue.
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Keywords: asphyxia; forensic science; hanging; sudden death

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Forensic Science SA, 21 Divett Place, Adelaide 5000, SA, Australia.

Publication date: September 1, 2008

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