3D-Printed Assisted Suicide Pod Is Now Legal in Switzerland

Image via Sarco

In Brief

  • The Facts:
    • Sarco, a chamber designed for safe assisted-suicide, just received legal approval in Switzerland.

    • Dr. Philip Nitschke initially began building devices like this to help terminally ill patients pass on their own accord.

    • But now, anyone that has taken a test and found to be of sound mind can access the product.

  • Reflect On:
    • For those found to be of a sound mind, should they have the choice to end their life at their choosing?

    • Should people who are terminally ill have to suffer until death, even if they don't want to?

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Switzerland is one of few countries in the world who allow for physician-assisted suicide. Now, a new company called Exit International wants to remove the physician from the process of assisted-suicide, and leave it in the hands of the patient.

Exit International (EI) are the makers of Sarco, a 3D-printed suicide chamber. EI is a non-profit dedicated to assisted-suicide advocacy. Recently, the Sarco chamber was given legal approval in Switzerland, and is set to launch in the country as soon as 2022.

The Sarco chambers give patients the option to pass comfortably and in a setting of their choosing. The pod can be placed in a home, forest or backyard – wherever the patient chooses. When a person is ready to die, they simply press a button that fills the pod with nitrogen gas that leads to oxygen depravation within 30 seconds. Of course, this all happens in a completely painless manner.

The inventor of the pod, Dr. Philip Nitschke, explains,

“The capsule is sitting on a piece of equipment that will flood the interior with nitrogen, rapidly reducing the oxygen level to 1 per cent from 21 per cent in about 30 seconds. The person will feel a little disoriented and may feel slightly euphoric before they lose consciousness. Death takes place through hypoxia and hypocapnia, oxygen and carbon dioxide deprivation, respectively. There is no panic, no choking feeling.”

Dr. Philip Nitschke

The pod does have an emergency stop button and an escape hatch as well, should the patient decide this was not what they wanted. To avoid any legal or ethical ramifications of creating a pod that kills people, EI instead has the person that is committing suicide make the pod themselves with a 3D printer.

Dr. Nitschke initially had the idea when he wanted to help terminally ill people end their life. In those cases, a patient has to pass a psychological examination before they can be offered assisted-suicide via a drug.

Exit International is seeking to move past that process as well by involving an AI-powered online mental capacity test. If one “passes the test,” they receive a code that allows them to access their Sarco.

This truly gives a person the power to end their life all on their own, in a painless and relatively predictable way.

Exit International states in their company vision statement,

“Our philosophy at Exit is that every adult of sound mind has the right to implement plans for the end of their life so that their death is reliable, peaceful and at a time of their choosing.”

In today’s culture it’s somewhat natural that a device like this would raise eyebrows. Do we want to talk about suicide in this manner? Should we be removing physicians from the process? If one is religious, isn’t suicide a sin?

If someone is found to be of sound mind, Dr. Nitschke feels,

“You’ve decided that now is the time you wish to die and I will respect that.”

Dr. Philip Nitschke

One fascinating piece to this puzzle is that the inventor and designer of this pod also intended that this device inspire conversation around death. It invites us to ask questions, explore these philosophical questions and stretch our curiosity to empathize with why some people, of sound mind, may want to make this choice.

We may not all agree on what choices people should have, but with an openness and curiosity perhaps we can explore our current positions and try to understand others’ perspectives and choices.

Perhaps as a way of thinking about this: If a person is 90 years old and they are found to be of sound mind yet feel within themselves they have had a great life and are ready to pass, should they be allowed to pass? What might be going on within them that brings about this thought?

If you or someone you know is having a crisis or contemplating suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or text the Crisis Text Line at 741-741.

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