Last year in 2020, about 1300 people in Switzerland died by assisted suicide, typically by ingestion of a drug called liquid sodium pentobarbital provided by assisted suicide organizations like Exit and Dignitas. After consuming the drug, the person will fall into a deep coma 5 minutes after ingestion, and death follows soon afterward. However, Dr. Philip Nitschke, the founder of an Australian-based company called Exit International (not to be confused with the previously mentioned Exit), proposes a new way for assisted suicide that just got approved for legal use.
The Sarcophagus, or “Sarco” for short, is a 3D printed machine in the shape of a coffin that aims to provide a peaceful death without the use of controlled substances. The capsule is activated from the inside by the person intending to die, and it can also be moved to different places. “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,” said Dr. Nitschke to Swiss Info. However, before the machine can be used, the person who wishes to use the service must answer an online survey to prove that they want to die out of their own free will. In Switzerland, the practice of assisted suicide is fine as long as it’s not being assisted by someone with selfish motives. Once the survey is reviewed, if the person is qualified, they will be sent the location of a Sarco and an access code. Once arriving at the location, the person gets inside the capsule and lies down in a “comfortable” position, but they’ll have to answer a series of pre-recorded questions before the process can begin. Once they have answered, they may press the button that activates the mechanism any time they want to with no rush.
The way death occurs is by hypoxia and hypocapnia, or in other words, deprivation of oxygen and carbon dioxide. The machine will slowly fill the enclosed space with nitrogen, rapidly decreasing the levels of oxygen from 21% to 1% in a process that takes about 30 seconds. There is no pain or choking, the person just simply loses consciousness and dies shortly after. During that time, the person inside might feel disoriented, and perhaps even a little “euphoric” as well, according to Dr. Nitschke. So far there are two prototypes, with one being currently displayed at the Museum for Sepulchral Culture in Kassel, Germany; the second not coming out “aesthetically pleasing;” as well as a third one currently being printed in the Netherlands.
The machines have been around for a few years now, with only having just undergone legal reviews last year. Moreover, the country’s medical board just legalized the use of the machines, and they are expected to be in operation in 2022. “We want to remove any kind of psychiatric review from the process and allow the individual to control the method themselves. 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.”
If you or someone you know is dealing with thoughts of suicide, please call the U.S National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org for help anytime.