CYANIDE POISONING AND ITS MEDICOLEGAL ASPECTS
Author: Annanya Saxena
Jamnalal Bajaj School of Legal Studies, Banasthali Vidhyapeeth
In this paper, the author has made an attempt to discuss Cyanide, its positive and negative aspects, and its medicolegal aspect. Cyanide or CN is an inorganic poison and is available in solid, liquid and gaseous state. this is among those poisons on the earth which causes a painless and quick death. Basically, when Cyanide enters the blood cell it prevents the cell from coming in contact with or react with oxygen and then due to lack of oxygen reactions in the body, death occurs. A compound containing cyanide occurs naturally at a low level. The commonly available Cyanide is in solid-state existing in the powdered form of white colour. The administration can be accidentally or voluntarily. Various effects on the body occur after consuming Cyanide. The major effect is the bitter almond effect. The major treatment for treating a person who took Cyanide are the Cyanide antidote kit or the use of hydroxocobalamin. Death from Cyanide can be homicidal, accidental or suicidal.
In biology, poisons are the substance that causes death, injury or harm to the organism, usually by chemical reaction or other activities on a molecular scale, when an organism absorbs a sufficient quantity of it. There are various types of poisons like inorganic poisons, organic poisons, biological poisons, homicidal poisons, accidental, cardiac, suicidal, respiratory, nervous system poisons, etc.
An inorganic poison may be a metal, a metalloid, a nonmetal element, an acid or base or an oxide or salt, etc. it may be solid, liquid or gas. Cyanide belongs to the family of inorganic poisons.
Basically, Cyanides are among those fast-acting poisons which are lethal and cause painless death. They are used as chemical weapons in world war. In nature, Cyanide is found in lo level. Naturally, it is produced by certain bacteria, fungi algae. It is also found in cigarette smoke, in-vehicle exhaust and in food such as spinach, bamboo shoot almonds, lima beans, fruit pite, etc.
Historically speaking, Cyanide in its hydrogen Cyanide form has been used as a chemical weapon. Cyanide and Cyanide containing compounds are used as pesticides, fumigants, plastics electroplating, photo developing and mining. Recently industries have started using iron and steel production, wastewater treatment, etc.
Scientifically, Cyanide is a chemical group consisting of one atom of carbon and one atom of nitrogen connected by the trimolecular bond. In its hydrogen Cyanide, it is a colorless gas and sodium cyanide or potassium Cyanide are in crystalline form.
PHYSICAL APPEARANCE OF CYANIDE
Cyanide occurs in all the three forms ie in the gaseous, liquid and solid-state. It occurs in a gaseous state as hydrogen Cyanide(HCN), in a liquid state as hydrocyanic acid or prussic acid and as salts of Cyanide in the solid-state as sodium Cyanide or potassium Cyanide.
USES OF CYANIDE
- Industrial uses:
Cyanide is used in electroplating, metal processing, the photographic process, production of synthesis of rubber, manufacture of plastic, etc.
- Agricultural use:
In the agricultural industry, it can be used in manufactures of insecticides and rodenticides
It is used for mining of gold and silver as it dissolves these metals and its ores
- Medical uses:
Sodium nitroprusside is used in clinical chemistry to measure urine Keeton in the bodies of a diabetic patient. It is also used to produce a rapid decrease in blood pressure of humans.
- Illegal fishing:
In order to capture live fishes near the coral reefs for the seafood market Cyanide is illegally used.
- Food additives:
It has high stability when it combines with iron and does not produce lethal results in the body and so it is used in food industries like an anticaking agent in table salt.
- Human poisoning:
The Cyanides and Cyanide containing compounds prevent the cell from using oxygen and thus it stops the process of aerobic cellular respiration and therefore death is caused.
SOURCES OF CYANIDE
- Through plants:
Naturally, Cyanide occurs in Christmas berry, velvet grass, jet berry bush, crab apple, suden grass, cherry laurel, bitter almonds, mountain mohagamy etc.
By burning plastic furniture, burning silk or burning wool or cigarette smoke Cyanide can be obtained.
Cyanides are generally used for killing purposes. This killing can be suicidal, homicidal or accidental. They are used through food for homicidal poisioning, and most commonly for this purpose potassium Cyanide is used. Accidental deaths are caused due to the ingestion of Cyanide mistakenly in place of anything or it is inhaled in gaseous form. As far as suicidal deaths are concerned Cyanide in its solid form is taken intentionally.
EFFECTS OF CYANIDE POISIONING
In the case of inhalation of cyanogenic gas, there is instantaneous death. In the case where a large dose of Cyanide in its liquid state is taken then the symptoms may not occur at once and death can be delayed for few minutes in such case convulsions and dilated pupils can be noted. In the case where a small amount of Cyanide in its liquid state is taken then there will be a general headache, loss of muscular power, the smell of bitter almonds can be noted from the mouth of the victim and a small amount of white forth from the mouth may also be noted.
In case of the consummation of Cyanide in its solid-state, the symptoms may occur after about 10 to 20 minutes as it has been acted upon by hydrochloric acid of gastric juice to liberate hydrocyanic acid. The principal symptoms may include dilated pupil, loss of muscle power, corrosive effect on mouth, throat, and stomach, epigastric pain and vomiting, the jaw will be noted as tightly clenched and forth will be visible from the mouth. Death occurs due to respiratory paralysis.
GENERAL EFFECTS OF CYANIDE POISIONING-
- Slow heart-beat
- General weakness
- Fast breathing
- Skin turning pink
- Bizarre behavior
- Excessive sleepiness
- Abdominal pain
- Shortness of breath
From the external appearance smell of bitter almonds can be observed from the body also pink patches all over the face, lips and body can be observed. The colour of the nails turns blue. White forth appears from the mouth. The eyes may turn brighter with dilated pupil. Rigor mortis sets in early if there are convulsive seizures.
Internally smell of bitter almonds is observed from the stomach and brain. Serious cavities in the body. The mucous membranes of the stomach are pink blood-stained froth may be found in trachea and bronchi.
Particularly when potassium Cyanide has been taken, slight corrosion in mouth, redding of the mucous membrane (which may be brick red to brown colour) may be observed.
The brains, lungs, blood, stomach contents, urine, and vomitus should be preserved for chemical analysis. They should be packed in such a manner that they should not get contaminated. They should be properly packed, transported.
The doctors may use antidots like celpha-keto glutaric acid, dicobalt edetate, 4-dimethylaminoethanol, etc. among all the most important are the Cyanide antidote kit and hydroxocobalamin.
The prior consist of three medications which are given together – amyle nitrate(which is given by inhalation for 15-30 seconds); sodium nitarte( which is administered for 3-5 minutes) and lastly sodium thiosulfate(which is administered for 30mintues).
The latter is used as it detoxifies the Cyanide by binding it and will form a non-toxic vitamin. Thus this medication will neutralize Cyanide at a slow rate and the enzyme formed is called rhodanese and it further detoxifies the Cyanide in the liver.
There are various tests for testing the presence of Cyanide. Among them, the most common are odour test and the colour test.
THE ODOUR TEST-
The characteristic smell of Cyanide is of bitter almond.
THE CLOUR TEST-
- The Prussian blue test-
The solution containing Cyanide is made with caustic potash, 0.5ml of freshly prepared ferrous sulfate solution and few drops of ferric chloride solution is added to it. The mixture is warmed with dilute sulfuric acid. Blue colour or blue precipitate indicated the presence of Cyanide.
- The sulfonamide test-
The alkaline solution containing Cyanide is treated with a few drops of yellow ammonium sulfide. It is then evaporated to dryness on the hot water bath. The residue is dissolved in a few drops of diluted hydrochloric acid. It gives blood red colour with one drop of ferric chloride solution.
THE MEDICO-LEGAL EFFECTS OF CYANIDE POISIONING
Generally after consuming cyanide death of the victim takes place. As cited above the death due to consumption of Cyanide can be homicidal or accidental or suicidal and hence all three have slightly different medicolegal effects.
- Homicidal death-
Homicidal deaths the type of deaths that are caused to others by the person like killing or commission of murder etc. it is the well-established notion that Cyanide is the best weapon for causing a homicidal type of death. But the actual fact is that it has been very rarely used. It was used in the commission of genocide of jews perpetrated by nazis during the second world war. Initially, the Nazis used carbon monoxide but late in order to expedite their gory task they began employing hydrogen Cyanide, up to 10,000 innocent people per day were butchered by this gas. It has been used legitimately to kill convicted criminals in some of the states of the USA, gassing with it being the official mode of execution in these states. Cyanide is rarely used for homicidal poisioning because of its peculiar smell and taste.
- Suicidal death-
Suicidal kind of deaths are the kind of death was the person intentionally administers himself Cyanide in any form so as to end his life. Cyanide is a very popular reason for suicidal deaths. This is because it causes instantaneous death. But as it is restricted chemical its employment is rare. The libration tiger of tamil eelam ( a terrorist organization of Srilanka) was known to encourage its members to wear a Cyanide capsule around there necks all the time. So that in the event of capture they could consume it and die and thus avoid being interrogated.
- Accidental deaths-
Accidental deaths are those kinds of deaths that are caused by some mistake or some misunderstanding. In the case of Cyanide, accidental exposure to cyanide may occur. This is frequently among the workers in industries handling Cyanide during their occupations. There are cases were the chemists and the laboratory assistants sometimes come in contact with hydrocyanic acid.
There are many statutes which deal with poison and poisonous substances like, Poison Act, 1919, The Poison And Dangerous Substances Act, 1957, etc. below are listed some sections of the Indian Penal Code dealing with poison and poisonous substance-
- Sec272- adulteration of food or drink intended for sale: if any person adulterates any food or drinks article so as to make it noxious and has the intention to sell it such person shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to 6 months or fine which may extend to rs. 1000 or both. This section is relevant as few poisons are used in very few quantities in order to adulterate the article like cyanide is used for fast ripening of grape.
- Sec284-negligent conduct with respect to poisonous substance: Punishment for negligent conduct with respect to poisonous substance may be imprisonment of either description which may extend up to 6 months and or fine which may extend up to one thousand rupees.
- Sec 309-attempt to commit suicide: if any person commits suicide or does anything towards its commission then such person shall be punished with simple imprisonment which may exceed one year or with fine or both. This section is relevant as poisons are used for suicidal purposes also.
- Sec 328-causing hurt by means of poison etc. with intent to commit an offence:Punishment’ for causing hurt by means of poison or any stupefying, intoxicating or unwholesome drug or any other thing with the intent to commit an offence shall be imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years with or without fine.
CONSTITUTIONAL PROVISIONS RELATED TO POISONS
The provision related to poisons is mentioned in the concurrent list in schedule 7. The matters related to positions will be dealt with by parliament and the state legislature. Also, article 47 of the Indian Constitution deals with the duty of the state to raise the level of nutrition and standard of living and to improve public health. Now, this article is relevant and indirectly related to positions as they are in very small quantities injected in the vegetables and the fruits and another food article in order to improve their quality expeditiously. So in order to raise the level of nutrition and improve public health, the state has to take note of such activities.
DECIDED CASE LAWS RELATED TO CYANIDE POISIONING
1) PALVINDER V. STATE OF PUNJAB (1952)
The victim’s body was found in the trunk and was discovered from the well, the manner of the death was not discovered but the appellant took part in the disposal of the body. There was no direct evidence that proves that potassium cyanide was consumed by him through some other person. The best evidence, in this case, was the doctor who performed the postmortem process. But still, the evidence did not provide anything which could suggest the victim consumed the poison as the doctor states that such poison is corrosive in nature and would produce hyperemia, softening and ulceration of gastrointestinal track and such signs were absent.
1) Babu vs State Of Kerala on 11 August 2010
This was an appeal against the judgment and order acquitted by the session’s court Thrissur in the high court of Kerela, Ernakulam. The appellant was charge-sheeted for murdering his wife by administering her with sodium cyanide.there was ample evidence that showed that two other friends of the husband had knowledge about the same. Also, the culprit was involved in the business of cleaning jewelry and thus he knew how to use sodium cyanide. Also on the churidar top of the victim, the stains of sodium cyanide were present. The culprit husband was tried and convicted by the trial court. But this conviction was set aside by the high court.
2) Bhupinder Singh vs State Of Punjab on 6 April 1988
In this case, there are two aspects that first show that Manju the victim died from potassium cyanide poisoning and the second aspect showed that the accused had full opportunity to administer cyanide to the victim. Also, there was evidence that showed that potassium cyanide was available at the accused’s place which was brought from a plastic factory where his mother worked.
1) M. Nageshwar Rao vs the State Of A.P on 5 January 2011
On the basis of the statement and recovering of the cold drink bottle the case was registered under section 302. The statement was registered under section 161of CRPC. Where it was confirmed that the appellant had cyanide with him. The report of the joint director of a forensic science laboratory, Hyderabad reported that victim ie Laxmi Kuari died of cyanide poisoning.
It can be concluded from the above research that cyanide is a chemical compound that has various uses ie both positive and negative. In a positive sense, it is used in industries, agriculture sector food industries, in medical industries, etc. but its negative uses cannot be ignored. The fact that it has more negative uses than the positive ones has to be noted. Before the restriction in the sell of this chemical in the pharmacies, cyanide was easily accessible to everyone and so the cases of deaths due to cyanide were frequent. Seeing the excessive use of cyanide in killing activities the government of various nations imposed the restriction on the sale of the chemical without the prescription of the authority as described in The Poisons Act,1919. This is a well-appreciated effort made by various governments. This Act also penalizes the sale or use of any poison and imposes imprisonment and fine. This Act also penalizes the importation of the poisons, as a suggestion the government should also penalize the exportation also, so as to stop the illegal use of various poisons. In recent context, the use of cyanide in negative aspects has become very rare.
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