Charcoal-burning suicide

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Charcoal-burning suicide is suicide by burning charcoal in a closed room or area. Death occurs by carbon monoxide poisoning.

Mechanism of action[edit]

As the charcoal burns, the concentration of carbon monoxide (CO) gradually increases. Because of its toxicity (and not the exhaustion of oxygen as sometimes thought) CO concentrations of as little as one part per thousand can be fatal if inhaled over a period of two hours.[1] The incomplete combustion of carbon produces carbon monoxide, which binds strongly to hemoglobin, rapidly decreasing the ability of blood to deliver oxygen to the body. This results in death due to hypoxia brought about by carbon monoxide poisoning.

The method is described as "easy and painless" compared to other suicide methods.[2] Many who attempt suicide by charcoal burning use alcohol or hypnotic drugs during the attempt, and survivors report that they felt no discomfort.[2]

Dominic Lee, assistant professor of psychiatry at the Chinese University of Hong Kong has challenged the description of the method as painless.[3] Typical symptoms of acute carbon monoxide poisoning include headache and nausea, and tachycardia and convulsions are possible additional symptoms.[4] A survivor of this method usually needs intensive care to manage the temporarily impaired oxygen capacity of the blood, and may have permanent brain damage caused by cerebral hypoxia.[citation needed]


As a method of suicide it is mentioned by Eugène Sue in The Wandering Jew (1844).[5]

In July 1994, two students of Taipei First Girls' High School committed suicide by charcoal-burning in a hotel in Su'ao, Yilan with a note that didn't state the reason clearly, even though that it was suspected in some mass media that they were a lesbian couple.[6] In November 1998, a middle-aged woman in Hong Kong committed suicide using this method inside her small, sealed bedroom. She had a chemical engineering background.[7] Hong Kong was suffering from an economic depression at the time, and suicide in general was increasing. After the details of this suicide were highly publicised by local mass media, many others killed themselves in this way (an example of the Werther effect). Within two months, charcoal-burning had become the third major suicide killer in Hong Kong.[8] Charcoal-burning suicide accounted for 1.7% of Hong Kong suicides in 1998 and 10.1% in 1999.[9] By 2001, it had surpassed hanging as the second most-common method of suicide in Hong Kong (second only to jumping), accounting for about 25% of all suicide deaths.[8] The method has since spread to mainland China, Taiwan and Japan.[10]

In March 2003, three Israeli residents of Kafr Qassem, a mother and her two sons, died in their sleep after sealing the room in which they were sleeping, as per Shelter in place guidelines, against potential chemical or biological attack. They had lit a charcoal fire to keep warm, unwittingly following the same preparations in charcoal-burning suicide and diverging from shelter in place guidelines. The father and another child survived.[11]

Beginning in 2003, authorities in Japan have seen a series of group suicides, committed by strangers who met in suicide chat rooms online. Such a group will typically use sleeping pills and charcoal stoves in a van parked in a remote area.[12]

On 9 March 2007, Brad Delp, the lead singer of the American rock band Boston, killed himself using this method.[13]

On 18 December 2017, Kim Jong-hyun, a member of the South Korean idol group SHINee, was found unconscious in a Gangnam residential hotel. He was later pronounced dead in the ICU. The police ultimately ruled his death a suicide through the earlier text messages sent to his sister, after the discovery of charcoal briquette remnants in a frying pan at the scene.[14][15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Staff. "Carbon Monoxide and Health Effects". The Engineering Toolbox. Retrieved 16 April 2017.
  2. ^ a b Chung WS, Leung CM (June 2001). "Carbon monoxide poisoning as a new method of suicide in Hong Kong". Psychiatr Serv. 52 (6): 836–7. doi:10.1176/ PMID 11376237. Archived from the original on 2003-09-22.
  3. ^ Staff (30 May 2002). "Life is precious". Shanghai Star. China Daily. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 16 April 2017.
  4. ^ Choi IS (June 2001). "Carbon monoxide poisoning: systemic manifestations and complications" (PDF). J Korean Med Sci. 16 (3): 253–61. doi:10.3346/jkms.2001.16.3.253. PMC 3054741. PMID 11410684.
  5. ^ "Father Arsene did cut his stick; that evening, he and his old wife suffocated themselves with charcoal." Ch 3. The Carouse Full Text
  6. ^ 管仁健 (1 June 2012), 你不知道的台灣.校園奇案, 文經社, ISBN 9789576636691
  7. ^ Chan KP, Yip PS, Au J, Lee DT (January 2005). "Charcoal-burning suicide in post-transition Hong Kong". Br J Psychiatry. 186 (1): 67–73. doi:10.1192/bjp.186.1.67. PMID 15630126.
  8. ^ a b Media coverage boosts 'charcoal burning' suicides — 28 February 2003 — New Scientist
  9. ^ Leung CM, Chung WS, So EP (May 2002). "Burning charcoal: an indigenous method of committing suicide in Hong Kong". J Clin Psychiatry. 63 (5): 447–50. doi:10.4088/JCP.v63n0512. PMID 12019670.
  10. ^ Taking the easy way out?, South China Morning Post, 9 January 2005
  11. ^ "Israelis suffocate in war-proof room". ABC News Online. 18 March 2003. Retrieved 22 June 2018.
  12. ^ Samuels, David (2007-05-01). "Let's Die Together". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2018-06-24.
  13. ^ "Brad Delp: Details Emerge About His Tragic Suicide". Guitar World Magazine. 27 April 2007. Retrieved 13 November 2015.
  14. ^ "SHINee Singer, K-pop Star Kim-Jonghyun Dead at 27 of Possible Suicide".
  15. ^ Wang, Amy. "K-pop fans 'devastated' after SHINee singer Jonghyun dies in possible suicide". Washington Post. Retrieved 13 January 2018.