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A suicide pill (also known as an L-pill or lethal pill) is a pill, capsule, ampoule or tablet containing a fatally poisonous substance that a person ingests deliberately in order to quickly cause his/her own death. This is done in order to avoid an imminent and far more unpleasant death (such as through torture) or to ensure that he/she cannot be interrogated and leak sensitive information. As a result, lethal pills have important psychological value to persons carrying out missions with a high risk of capture and interrogation.[1] Their main advantage is that, whereas a concealed pistol will very easily be discovered and confiscated when someone is overpowered and searched, a small pill more easily evades detection.

Description

Traditionally, lethal pills are oval capsules, approximately the size of a pea, consisting of a thin-walled glass ampoule covered in brown rubber (to protect against accidental breakage) and filled with a concentrated solution of potassium cyanide. It is important to note that purpose-made lethal pills (of the rubber-coated type) are never swallowed whole. Instead, they are first crushed between the user's molars to release the fast-acting poison contained within. Brain death occurs within minutes and the heartbeat stops shortly after. A suicide pill swallowed without first being crushed would pass harmlessly through the digestive tract.

The concept of the suicide pill does not limit itself to pills, but rather may lend itself in a colloquial manner to anything that has fatal consequences when deliberately taken or done. Cyanide inhibits the mitochondrial electron transport chain.

The Central Intelligence Agency began experimenting with saxitoxin, an extremely potent neurotoxin, during the 1950s. According to CIA Director William Colby they issued a tiny, saxitoxin-impregnated needle (hidden inside a fake silver dollar) to each American U-2 pilot, with instructions to stab themselves with it if shot down over the USSR.[2]

Examples

  • In 1987 two North Korean Agents bit into ampules hidden in the filter tips of cigarettes after they were detained in Bahrain as suspects in an airplane bombing. One agent died.[5]
  • During the Civil War in Sri Lanka between 1987 to 2009, the separatist suicide bombers of Tamil Tigers wore a potassium cyanide necklace. If they were captured by the Sri Lanka Army, they would bite in to the tablet at the end of the necklace. In addition to suicide bombers, since 1976 almost all separatists of this organization wore suicide pill. This is the most modern day wide scale use of potassium cyanide as a suicide tool.[6]

Metaphorical uses

In economics, a suicide pill is a form of risk arbitrage used by corporations to thwart hostile takeover attempts. As an extreme version of the poison pill defense, this crippling provision refers to any technique used by a target firm in which takeover protection could result in self-destruction.

Variations of the suicide pill include the Jonestown Defense, Scorched Earth defense, and Golden Parachute.

References

External links

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