If you're going to off yourself, science says there's no better way than strapping a plastic bag over your head and pumping helium into your lungs. It is the preferred method of the controversial assisted-suicide group The Final Exit Network, and, according to the latest academic research, it is "is potentially quick and appears painless." It's also cheap, with the "exit hood" kit retailing for a mere $60 online. The latest poster child for the process is Richard Luckett, a 44-year-old Tumwater man who was expected to plead guilty to two counts of child molestation later this week. Thanks to an exit hood, it looks like Luckett is definitely going to miss that court date.
An electrical engineer by trade, Luckett had no criminal history before he was picked up January after being accused of child molestation. Luckett confessed to the crimes, reportedly telling detectives "that as a child he was abused and as a result was sexually aroused" by children.
It remains unclear whether Luckett purchased his "exit hood" online or engineered his own. The contraptions have sparked controversy on numerous occasions. Just last week the Oregon State House of Representatives voted to outlaw the selling or purchase of so-called "suicide kits," after a 29-year-old Eugene man purchased one online from the Southern California-based Gladd Group.
Elsewhere, the Final Exit group remains under fire in Georgia. Final Exit, an offshoot of the now-defunct Hemlock Society, has 3,000 members across the country, including 58 "exit guides." The network claims it has helped "hasten the death" of between 130 and 200 terminally ill patients, most of them in New York, Florida, and California.
From the 2002 edition of Final Exit: How to kill yourself with helium.
In 2009, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation conducted a sting that targeted Final Exit. Here's how the operation was described by Riverfront Times, Seattle Weekly's sister paper in St. Louis:
An exit guide named Thomas "Ted" Goodwin, the network's founder and former president, visited a client named Richard Sartain. In the past four years, Goodwin had assisted in 35 deaths, most of them in the southeast.
This was to be Sartain's "death event." He'd bought the exit hood and helium tanks, and Goodwin began to walk him through the exit procedure. He showed Sartain how to put the hood over his head and how to attach a hose to the helium tanks and run it up into the hood.
Then, according to court records, Goodwin climbed on top of him to demonstrate how he would hold Sartain's hands down to keep him from removing the hood. Goodwin later maintained that he only held Sartain's hand to comfort him and let him know he wouldn't die alone.
Sartain did not, as he claimed, have pancreatic cancer. In fact, he was in perfect health. "Richard Sartain" was the alias of an undercover agent for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI).
On June 11, Final Exit filed an injunction in federal court hoping to block Georgia law enforcement from cracking down on assisted-suicide volunteers nationwide.
Luckett, though, almost certainly acted alone. Police are still waiting for the coroner to determine the official cause of death, but he was found with the plastic bag over his head and a helium tank nearby. Had Luckett's suicide been assisted, it would have been much more difficult to figure out how he died. Helium leaves no trace. If the hood apparatus is removed before the body is discovered, it often appears as though the deceased perished peacefully in their sleep.