Let’s be clear: this is not a how-to on killing yourself quickly and painlessly (or at all). If you have stumbled upon this article and you are struggling, please get help by calling The National Suicide Prevention Hotline; information can be found here.
This article is meant to inform the curious among us (and who isn’t?) about what the scientifically easiest death is. Many people say there is no death that comes without pain, even the smallest amount; no death is “easy”. That being said, some ways of dying are without a doubt preferable to others.
This list is made up of 15 different ways that, should you have a choice, would be the optimal way to die. There is no way around death, and even though the first steps have been taken to choose how and when you die with the Death With Dignity act in Oregon, most of us will not be able to choose how, when, where, or any other detail of our last days, moments, or seconds.
Essentially, “best” means fast and without pain. But unless you die a little old man or lady, warm in your bed while you sleep, having lived a long and fulfilled life, there simply is no good way to die. It is frightening that very few of us will actually experience this ideal end of life. Read on to learn of 15 other possibilities for a means of death that play second fiddle to the little old man or lady scenario, but that we will still consider “best” for our purposes.
15. In Your Sleep
It makes sense, right? If you are sleeping, you don’t even know what is happening. It is somehow both comforting and creepy to think of drifting off to sleep and just never waking up again. Comforting because you will not know what hit you, but creepy because we fall asleep every night of our lives knowing with certainty that we will wake up again. To just not wake up would be so… abrupt. You have to weigh the pros and cons of that, though. Sudden cardiac arrest is the most likely reason one could die without warning in their sleep, although it is thought that Obstructive Sleep Apnea could also be attributed to thousands of sleep deaths. Old age and blood clots are also potential culprits. Whichever way you slice it though, being asleep and blissfully unaware sounds a lot better than what is to follow on this list…
This method of execution has not been in practice since 1977, and it is highly doubtful it will come back any time soon. There have been variations of it, though, mostly in the form of the beheadings that have plagued the world in internet videos. There is no need to watch the gruesome and evil acts of violence which are so readily available to anyone with the internet, and they are very different than the guillotine because they are quite painful. The guillotine is the machine used in the severing of one’s head from their body by dropping a sharp blade swiftly and cleanly from the top of the guillotine. Beheading is slowly slicing one’s neck with a knife, almost like sawing. The guillotine is in contact with your neck for 1/100th of a second, and the failure rate during the French Revolution was one person out of thousands throughout the Reign of Terror. Yes, just one person, although I cannot imagine how. I imagine the worst part (besides knowing you’re about to be executed) would be the five to seven seconds after your head is chopped off when you can still be considered alive. Medical examiner Shiya Ribowsky said in an interview with the History Channel that he “can’t imagine a quicker and more painless way to go.”
13. Shot to the Head
This one is kind of obvious, because it is so quick it does not have time to hurt- unless it is done wrong. Theoretically, death will be instant if a person is shot in the head, but the reality is that a surprising five percent of people who experience this will actually survive! For something that seems like a given, that is pretty remarkable. For those few people, some will still die, but instead of it being right away, death will come slowly as they bleed out. Bleeding out, or other complications, could be undoubtedly painful. Other people could even live through the experience; it has happened. It is very rare to begin with, and even rarer to survive and go on to live any semblance of a normal life. Most people who survive a gunshot to the head will be braindead or have a disability like blindness, paralysis, nerve damage, or mental retardation. They could also experience the loss of language ability or memory.
This seems kind of obvious, too. But as with the gunshot to the head, if you jump or fall, hopefully it kills you, because if not you could be in for a lifetime of pain. Jumping or falling from a tall building, a cliff, or anything higher than a few stories will likely kill you instantly. And thus, death would be painless, in theory. But if you land on your feet, there could be a split second of unbearable pain before you’re gone, whereas if you land face-first, death is instantaneous. Survivors who have either fallen from a great height or attempted suicide by jumping have had to deal with massive psychological issues for the rest of their lives, probably making it even worse than whatever was happening in their life prior to jumping that led them to do it in the first place. For example, survivors who have jumped off the San Francisco Bridge (there are very few) say they regretted it the second they jumped, and had to think about that for the four seconds they fell. Obviously, surviving a fall like that would come with plenty of the physical repercussions, too. But for those who do not survive, it seems like a relatively painless death.
11. Carbon Monoxide Inhalation
This is a popular choice for people wanting to kill themselves because for the most part you just fall asleep and never wake up again. If there were ever a “peaceful” death, it would be this. In fact, it is so peaceful that people nowadays require carbon monoxide detectors in their homes, because if there is a leak, they would be none the wiser until it is too late. The invisible, odorless, and tasteless gas that is toxic to our bodies comes with short-term effects like dizziness, nausea, headaches, and loss of consciousness. That doesn’t sound so horrible, but if you don’t die from carbon monoxide poisoning, you could suffer long-term effects like brain damage and paralysis. There are many ways it can kill you, but mainly victims of carbon monoxide have run their car in the garage with the door shut, stayed in an enclosed area with a fire, or had the silent killer in their home undetected for too long.
10. Lethal Injection/Euthanasia
Lethal injection is by design painless, in order to uphold the part of the Constitution that addresses no cruel or unusual punishment. When convicted felons on death row are put to death, they are to die as comfortably as possible. That is not to say there have been no mishaps, for lack of a better word. But generally speaking, the injection is a combination of three drugs that when given in a certain order will essentially put you to sleep forever. Most of the states use the following three drugs: Sodium thiopental to induce unconsciousness, pancuronium bromide to cause paralysis and respiratory arrest, and potassium chloride to stop the heart. It all sounds pretty scary, and the inmates are probably terrified already, but it sounds a hell of a lot better than the electric chair or some of the other tortuous methods of execution people have thought up throughout history. These same drugs are used for people who have made the choice to end their lives by physician-assisted suicide, also known as Death with Dignity. The difference between this and the lethal injection, besides what you call it, is obviously having a choice in the matter, and that the person experiencing euthanasia will be a lot more comfortable at home surrounded by loved ones if and when they decide to do it.
9. Hit by a Car
Your body hitting something at an enormous speed is the same whether it is your body that is moving, or it is another object, like a car. Either way, something stationary collides with something that has an intensely high velocity, and that is that. In this way, getting hit by a car or truck is like jumping or falling from a great height. The only difference is that now instead of your body being the non-stationary variable, the vehicle is. So, the same principles apply. If the car is traveling fast enough, just as if the building or cliff is high enough, the impact will be enough to end one’s life on impact, instantly and painlessly. The problem comes when said impact does not actually kill a person, but leaves them paralyzed, in a coma, brain-dead, or any of the other many things that can happen after an accident like this, most of which are bound to be very painful for a long time.
8. Kidney Failure
This one may come as a surprise to many, but while no one desires their organs to fail them and there are always exceptions to any rule, in general dying of kidney failure is considered better than most ways there are to die. According to an article in the Washington Post, “Dying from kidney failure is often painless and peaceful, with some even regarding it as a ‘good’ death.” Obviously, everything leading up to the actual death, all of the symptoms of a fatal disease, are the opposite of good, painless, or peaceful. The author of the article does reference the “calming effect of uremia” (a condition many end-stage renal failure patients exhibit), which may play a role in the peaceful aspect. But when it comes to the actual moment of death, it has been said time and time again that dying this way is one of the better ways to go.
7. The Big O
Say whaaaat? Yes, it’s true, albeit very rare. Dying from an orgasm is so rare, in fact, that you have probably never even heard of it happening. But damn, if ya gotta go, you might as well go out with a bang (pun intended). One such case happened to a 21-year-old woman in Brazil in 2011. After Bianca Borges Bezerra was sexually intimate with a girlfriend, she went into a trance-like state. This has been known to happen to people after an especially intense orgasm. The friend described post-coital Bianca like this: “She strongly held the mattress with her nails, opened her mouth in the form of an ‘O’, and her eye pupils were spinning around in circles as if they were loose inside her eyes.” Bianca stayed frozen this way, and after 12 minutes, the friend called an ambulance. At the hospital, they pronounced the cause of death the continuous orgasm. A sad story for sure, but not the worst way to die in the world.
There are four ways a bomb can kill a person, but if you are going to die in an explosion, the initial blast is the way to go. It sounds violent and grotesque (which I assure you, it is) but the speed of dying in a blast is the main reason a bomb belongs on this list. Besides the shrapnel/debris, the shockwave that (if its powerful enough) can propel your body against the ground or wall or whatever and thus cause fatal injuries, a damaged building falling down on you, or any harmful chemicals, smoke, or fire, the primary way a bomb kills you is that the enormous amount of energy released when it explodes will rupture your organs. It would be painless and quick, and you would never know what hit you if you were to die from the explosion, itself.
Like babies can suffer from S.I.D.S. (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), so can adults suffer from S.A.D.S. (Sudden Adult Death Syndrome). It is not common, but it is possible. Whereas infants who die from this are usually found to have suffocated (sometimes from parental bed-sharing), hyperthermia, apnea, or a disturbance of the heart’s electrical system, in adults it is most often due to heart arrhythmias. Also called Sudden Arrhythmic Death Syndrome, it mainly happens without warning and while a person sleeps. The only precursors to this actually occurring could be family history, shortness of breath, or possible fainting or seizures when exercising or excited. There will always be a few people who seem to just drop dead without any explanation, even post-mortem. But many of them end up having S.A.D.S., and because it is so sudden and happens while asleep, it is a lot less painful than many other, more common ways to die.
4. Blunt Force to the Head
You have likely heard the term “blunt force trauma” many times in crime shows or movies. The term refers to a severe traumatic episode caused to the head with the sudden introduction of a blunt instrument used with great force. Of course, this can be the result of an attack, a car accident, a fall, or many additional things. Seeing a person be knocked out or killed by a blow to the head is something we have become desensitized to with all the graphic television scenes on shows like Law and Order: SVU and others like it. In fact, I already saw one today, a few minutes ago on T.V. actually, and didn’t think twice about it until I sat down to write this. That may be because when you do see it, it is not particularly disturbing since there is often no physical evidence of the head injury (at least not that is apparent right away) and more than that, often the victim of the blunt force trauma did not suffer at all because of how fast it happened. It is literally boom, and they’re gone.
There is contradictory information regarding what it feels like to experience a drug overdose, but the jist of it seems to be that depending on the drug, if you take enough of it, you will pass in your sleep. Heroin is a painkiller (literally, it kills pain) and gives you a sense of euphoria. In an overdose of this kind, you would lose consciousness and whether you meant to harm yourself or not, stop breathing. The death would be peaceful and painless. If you do somehow become aware of what is happening, you would be so high it wouldn’t hurt (and if it did hurt, you wouldn’t care) which is one reason it can be so dangerous. However, if you end up at the hospital you will probably be miserable, especially if you ingested too many pills and have your stomach pumped. All of this also goes for most other drugs people overdose on, like sleeping pills, other opiates, etc. All would put you to sleep, cease your breathing, and kill you. All would also be hard to recover from, should you be so lucky. Over-the-counter medications will kill you too, but they would take a lot longer as they shut down your organs one by one.
It is a strange phenomenon that after a certain point, a person who is freezing to death will actually begin to feel warm inside as they near the final stages of hypothermia. As with many of the items on this list, making it to the final stage of any death is often quite miserable, but the moment death happens is better. Most of this list has focused on very swift ways of dying because anything prolonged is of course going to be more painful. Well, one can become hypothermic very slowly or very quickly. An example of it setting in quickly would be falling through the ice, or the people who froze in the north Atlantic when the Titanic sunk. No matter how fast you get it, though, when it becomes severe enough, a person will grow disoriented and sleepy and drift off, never to wake up again. The painful part would be being rescued and warmed up. Survivors of near-fatal hypothermia say the warming-up process was excruciating to their frozen body, and some have even been known to go into shock during rewarming.
1. Nitrogen Hypoxia
Hypoxia occurs when a person does not get enough oxygen. The air we breathe is 79% nitrogen and 21% oxygen. Nitrogen hypoxia, which some suggest would be a more humane way to execute prisoners on death row than the lethal injection, would be induced by having the prisoner breathe a gas mixture of pure nitrogen, which is painless. Although a means for inducing this execution has not been established, the main idea for delivery would be through a face-mask similar to that of a fireman. One proponent of this new method is Michael Copeland, who says, “In industrial accidents, [death from nitrogen hypoxia] often happens because the victim does not know they are in a hypoxic environment. That suffocating feeling of anxiety and discomfort is not associated with hypoxic deaths.” Copeland says that a man condemned to die this way would likely not even know when the switch was flipped. He would simply lose consciousness after 15 seconds of feeling slightly intoxicated, and after about 30 seconds, stop making brain waves. Two to three minutes later, his heart would stop beating. Pictured above is a gas chamber like the ones that could be used for executions. Oklahoma was the first to accept this newest execution method, although not without hesitation.