CPR First Aid

Beware the Peaceful, Painless Death of Hypothermia

Beware the Peaceful Painless Death of Hypothermia

People have often waxed poetic about the peaceful and painless death of hypothermia. Some make it seem like giving in to the cold feels blissful. While it may feel good, it is something that must be feared. 

Winter is coming, and along with it, the dangers of freezing temperatures. When a person is left out in the cold, it could lead to a significant drop in a person’s body temperature.

Once dangerously low, it begins to affect organs and the nervous system and even introduce heart problems. Eventually, it will lead to death. 

Being out in the cold is uncomfortable. However, an odd phenomenon occurs in extreme temperatures when people are on the brink of death due to the cold.

The myth has always been that dying from the cold is a serene experience. Learning from these stories and opinions, it is best to be aware and wary of the peaceful, painless suicide that hypothermia brings. 

What Happens in the Extreme Cold?

As stated previously, when exposed to extremely cold temperatures, people begin to experience frostbite and hypothermia. It is when the body’s temperature drops off faster than the heat produced. This happens when body temperatures reach a level of 35°C and lower. 

This condition brings with it a laundry list of symptoms. It is perilous, though, because people may not be aware that it is already happening to them.

Depending on how serious it is, this condition goes from mild to moderate and then severe. If left unchecked, it could lead to death.

Exposure to extreme cold causes frostbite & hypothermia. Body temp drops faster than heat produced, below 35°C.

A Blissful Death: Where Did This Come From?

One popular opinion that many people adhere to is that hypothermic death is peaceful. Some people say it is like going to sleep. This is an interesting thought, as most people are fearful of death. So, where did this come from? 

Fortunately, we don’t have to look far for stories that share these consequences. One climber was found dead on the 11,000 feet summit of a mountain. He had succumbed to the extreme cold, with examiners stating it was a blissful experience.

Other people from forum boards also claim the same thing. These were either from first-hand experience or overheard from medical professionals.

What about the medical community? How do they weigh in on the issue?

The Descent to Hypothermic Death

We can look at the climber above’s account to see what happens when exposed to extreme cold for a long time. A professional from the medical community was able to analyse what took place moments before his death.

The climber was Kelly James, and this was his experience.

Climber in extreme cold analyzed by medical pro before death.

Mild Symptoms

  • Shivering
  • Loss of coordination
  • Slight changes in mental state and personality

Moderate Symptoms

  • Bouts of amnesia and compromised memory
  • Increased irrational actions
  • The desire to discard warm clothing and stop eating

Severe Symptoms

  • Organs stop working
  • Shivering stops
  • An eerie calm takes over
  • Victims fall unconscious and slip into a coma
  • Death

How Long Does it Usually Take?

The progression toward death is mainly variable and contingent on several things. For instance, hypothermic conditions are more severe in water. This means that people can die in just under an hour.

Out of the water, it can last from hours to days and even weeks. 

A Peaceful Passing

From these various experiences, it seems that this feeling of calm and bliss is inherent to the various symptoms a person goes through with hypothermia.

For starters, it is a trick that the various organs play on the brain. It makes the person feel like things are better than they are. People often wonder, does dying feel like going to sleep? The answer is, yes. Amidst the dread and suffering the constant cold brings, the fatalist acceptance starts to feel like a comfort. 

When eventually sleep comes, as many accounts state, it is peaceful and painless. At the extreme point of severity, death comes as easy as sleep, making it a route for suicide by some.

Suicide by Hypothermia

Although it is unfortunate, case reports, archives, and news reveal that people may have committed suicide by hypothermia.

A High Death Rate from Hypothermia in South Australia

The University of Adelaide published news on its website about the higher death rate of hypothermia in South Australia than in Sweden. It featured a study that analysed forensic cases of hypothermia deaths from 2006-2011 in both areas. It found that South Australia had a rate of 3.9 deaths for every 100,000 people, compared with Sweden’s 3.3.

Although hypothermia was found to be the cause of death, other underlying illnesses were also involved. Most cases in South Australia were of elderly women who lived alone and had limited contact with the outside world.

In comparison with Sweden’s cases, most fatalities were men who may had accidental hypothermia from going outdoors and being under the influence of alcohol.

Soldier Dies from Suicide through Hypothermia

Another news from Adirondack Daily discussed the manner of death through hypothermia of an Australian soldier Paul McKay. Autopsy findings show he had arrhythmia (an irregularity of the heart’s rhythm such as ventricular fibrillation) due to hypothermia.

Suicide Cases from Hypothermia Death-Related Reports

Saje Journals (under Academic Forensic Pathology International) posted a report about Suicide by Hypothermia: A Report of Two Cases and 23-Year Retrospective Review on its website. It mentioned an investigation made on January 1991-April 2014 for deaths that listed hypothermia as the cause. It found that in 146 cases, 8 had suicide which were mostly younger individuals.

References of the study include books, studies, reports, and case reports. Such are about forensic sciences, moderate hypothermia, j forensic sci, Epidemiology, arch kriminol, vitreous glucose, and others. To read the full text of the resources, visit the website of the DOI Foundation.

Suicide by Hypothermia with Intentional Partial Undressing

The website of PubMed published a case report (PMID: 22039695) about a young woman who died from suicidal hypothermia which was found partly undressed. It was found to be in her plan and not due to paradoxical undressing.

However, it also reiterates that most cases of fatal hypothermia are because of cold exposure, alcoholisation, homelessness, age-related confusedness, and others.

The researchers of the case report which is under Arch Kriminol, 2011 Sep-Oct are Katja Müller, Axel Gehl, Reinhold Ottens, Klaus Püschel.

The same US gov website provides related public health resources about suicide, paradoxical undressing, and hypothermia.

The Suicide of a Japanese Girl in the Slovak Republic

Science Direct published a case report about the Ritual suicide of Japanese girl in the Slovak Republic on its website. Her body was deeply frozen in the mass of snow in February 2006 near the town of Liptovsky Mikulas.

Painless Deaths and Various Methods

In light of the discussion surrounding hypothermia and its association with potential deaths, it’s essential to approach the topic of end-of-life decisions with sensitivity and awareness. While acknowledging the complexities and ethical considerations involved, here are some humane ways to commit suicide peacefully.

Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID)

In jurisdictions where medical assistance in dying is legally permitted, individuals facing terminal illness or unbearable suffering may opt for this option. Under the guidance of healthcare professionals, patients can choose to receive medication that brings about a peaceful and dignified death.

Voluntary Stoppage of Eating and Drinking (VSED)

Some individuals may choose to cease food and fluid intake voluntarily as a means of hastening their death. While this method can lead to discomfort and weakness over time, proponents argue that it allows individuals to maintain autonomy and control over their end-of-life decisions.

Palliative Sedation

Palliative sedation involves the administration of medications to relieve suffering by inducing a state of deep sedation. While the primary goal is symptom management rather than hastening death, this approach can provide comfort and relief in the final stages of life.

Legalized Euthanasia

In regions where euthanasia is legally sanctioned, individuals with terminal illnesses or unbearable suffering may choose to end their lives with the assistance of a medical professional. This option ensures a painless and compassionate exit from life, guided by strict legal and ethical protocols.

Voluntary Inert Gas Asphyxiation

Inhaling inert gases like helium or nitrogen in a controlled setting can lead to rapid unconsciousness and death due to oxygen deprivation. While controversial and subject to legal and ethical scrutiny, proponents argue that this method offers a peaceful and painless means of self-euthanasia for consenting individuals.

Empathy and Respect for End-of-Life Choices

It’s imperative to approach discussions about end-of-life choices with empathy, respect, and an understanding of individual autonomy. These options should be considered within the broader framework of ethical and legal guidelines, with a focus on ensuring that individuals receive adequate support, information, and access to palliative care services. 

Additionally, promoting open dialogue about end-of-life preferences and advance care planning can empower individuals to make informed decisions consistent with their values and wishes. If you or someone you know is considering end-of-life options, seeking guidance from healthcare professionals and support networks is essential.

The Comfortable Calm of Sleep

According to several stories and opinions from medical experts, extreme hypothermic levels may bring out symptoms that make death akin to merciful sleep. While the thought may be comforting to some, we hope that what we have shared will help people experiencing hypothermia.

The lesson here is that when people feel the comfortable calm of sleep, they should fight it as it will eventually lead to death. 

Knowing the proper first aid practices will be helpful when going against the extreme cold and equip you with the right skills, such as CPR, to help people in need.

Extreme hypothermia may mimic peaceful sleep in fatal cases, but awareness is crucial for treatment.

Learn more about life-saving skills and the various dangerous conditions with CPR First Aid’s Liverpool course

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