People in Switzerland will soon be able to end their own life using a new machine called the Sacro Suicide Pod. The 3D printed capsule can also serve as a coffin that biodegrades naturally in the ground. Regulators in the country have just approved the device for personal use, but the announcement set off a new debate over euthanasia.
The Sacro Suicide Pod may look like something out of your favorite animated science fiction cartoon, but it’s designed to help people end their own life as peacefully as possible.
It’s shaped like a capsule with windows to help people relax during their final moments of life. The coffin is also portable, so people can die where they please. Individuals can also operate the device by blinking in case they have a disability or suffer from locked-in syndrome.
Assisted suicide is legal in Switzerland. Studies show around 1,300 people used euthanasia services last year. The most conventional method involves a chemical substance. Companies Dignitas and Exit sell an ingestible liquid sodium pentobarbital that induces a coma within about two minutes with death coming another few minutes later.
However, the Sacro Suicide Pod takes a different approach. It reduces the amount of oxygen in the pod to a critical level until the person dies by hypoxia and hypocapnia.
“We want to remove any kind of psychiatric review from the process and allow the individual to control the method themselves,” said inventor Philip Nitschke of Exit International, no relation to Exit. “Our aim is to develop an artificial-intelligence screening system to establish the person’s mental capacity. Naturally, there is a lot of skepticism, especially on the part of psychiatrists.”
To use the pod, the person must undergo a psychiatric evaluation by answering a series of questions online. If approved, they will receive the specific location of the pod and an access to code to get inside.
Once they are in, they must answer a series of pre-recorded questions to make sure they want to end their life. The machine will then start filling the capsule with nitrogen as oxygen levels drop from 21% to 1%.
Nitschke, dubbed “Dr. Death”, said the person may feel a sense of euphoria just before dying. “The whole thing takes about 30 seconds. Death takes place through hypoxia and hypocapnia, oxygen and carbon dioxide deprivation, respectively. There is no panic, no choking.”
He added that “The machine can be towed anywhere for the death. It can be in an idyllic outdoor setting or in the premises of an assisted-suicide organization, for example.”
The company says the pod should be operational in 2022, but they have yet to announce the price for using the service. Nitschke said Exit International has three prototypes, but one wasn’t “aesthetically pleasing” and needs further review.
Medical regulators recently approved the device for use in Switzerland. The company may expand its services to other countries where assisted suicide is legal, such as the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Canada.
However, the announcement garnered pushback from several different groups that oppose euthanasia.
Some have likened the machine to the gas chambers used in the Holocaust.
Dr. Nitschke previously defended the idea during an interview in 2018. “Gas may never be an acceptable method for assisted suicide in Europe due to the negative connotations of the Holocaust. Some have even said that it’s just a glorified gas chamber,” he said at the time.
Others have criticized the pod for its overly futuristic design, which they say glamorizes suicide. They also called out the company’s corresponding VR app that lets people experience their own virtual death”.
The technology was on display during the 2018 Funeral Expo at the Westerkerk Church in Amsterdam, creating an uproar among the church’s board.
“Westerkerk will never support people by offering equipment as promoted by Dr. Nitschke and we seriously wonder whether this contributes to a thorough and careful discussion around the issue,” Jeroen Kramer, president of the Westerkerk church board, said at the time. “We will not and cannot support any suggestion of using such equipment.”
Despite the criticisms, Dr. Nitschke is moving ahead full steam. He recently told the media that “there are no legal issues at all” in terms of getting the device to market.
“Barring any unforeseen difficulties, we hope to be ready to make Sarco available for use in Switzerland next year,” he said. “It’s been a very expensive project so far, but we think we’re pretty close to implementation now.”
If you or a loved one are struggling with suicidal thoughts, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.