Poetry Month - Poetic Death Match Game Show

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David G., M.D. -

Sylvia Plath didn't die of carbon monoxide poisoning, but rather of asphyxia. In order to produce carbon monoxide from a gas oven, you need combustion, which would have cooked her head! She would have had to pull out due to heat, long before she died.

Her method of suicide would have entailed blowing out the pilot so she had just a jet of gas coming in. This displaces the oxygen in the oven, resulting in asphyxia.

Rob O -

Hey David! Your comment has stirred up a bee hive of debate here at EMRAP central, so we had our resident historian dig a little deeper...

While asphyxiation may certainly have been at play, Sylvia Plath's death certificate suggests otherwise, saying that the cause of death was "Carbon Monoxide Poisoning (domestic gas) whilst suffering from depression. Did kill herself."

Here is a link to the death certificate

As you say in your comment, we are trained to discern whether or not stove related incidents place a patient at risk for CO exposure based on the presence of absence of combustion. The oven Sylvia Plath owned was likely supplied with "coal gas" which had enough carbon monoxide in it to kill someone over time. From the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine: "In the 1960s and 1970s the conversion from coal gas to carbon-monoxide-free natural gas caused a dramatic reduction in poisoning."


Modern gas is a much less harmful mixture of methane and ethane:


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