Eu­thana­sia ex­pert Nitschke un­veils ‘sui­cide ma­chine’ at fu­neral fair

The Southland Times - - WORLD -

NETHER­LANDS: It’s not the most cheer­ful of­fer­ing. But eu­thana­sia ac­tivist Philip Nitschke thinks he’s about to rev­o­lu­tionise how we die.

At a fu­neral fair in Am­s­ter­dam last week, he showed off his ‘‘sui­cide ma­chine’’. The ‘‘Sarco,’’ short for sar­coph­a­gus, is de­signed to ‘‘pro­vide peo­ple with a death when they wish to die’’, Nitschke, an Aus­tralian na­tional, said. It comes with a de­tach­able cof­fin and a hookup for a ni­tro­gen con­tainer.

Here’s how it would work, ac­cord­ing to Nitschke. Users would first take an on­line test to de­ter­mine whether they were sane. If they cleared the test, they would be sent an ac­cess code, valid for 24 hours. They’d then get into the cap­sule, close the door and press a but­ton to have the ni­tro­gen pipe in. Nitschke says users would pass out within a minute.

‘‘The per­son who wants to die presses the but­ton and the cap­sule is filled with ni­tro­gen. He or she will feel a bit dizzy but will then rapidly lose con­scious­ness and die,’’ he said.

The Sarco’s de­sign is meant to echo that of a space­ship. It is in­tended to give users the feel they are trav­el­ling to the ‘‘great be­yond.’’

Nitschke de­vel­oped the Sarco along­side Dutch de­signer Alexan­der Ban­nink. At the event, peo­ple also had an op­por­tu­nity to don vir­tual-re­al­ity glasses that give users a sense of what sit­ting in the pod might look and feel like.

The in­ven­tors said they hope to have a fully func­tion­ing pod by the end of the year. Nitschke then plans to put the de­sign on­line and al­low any­one to down­load it.

‘‘That means that any­body who wants to build the ma­chine can down­load the plans and 3-D print their own de­vice,’’ he said.

The ma­chine has been con­tro­ver­sial since its in­cep­tion.

One critic, Ge­orge­town pro- fes­sor of bio­med­i­cal ethics Daniel Sul­masy, said it’s ‘‘a bad medicine, ethics, and bad pub­lic pol­icy.’’

‘‘It con­verts killing into a form of healing and doesn’t ac­knowl­edge that we can now do more for symp­toms through pal­lia­tive [care] than ever be­fore,’’ he said.

Nitschke, 70, has been a eu­thana­sia ad­vo­cate for decades. As a med­i­cal stu­dent, he said, he was in­spired by Jack Kevorkian, an Amer­i­can pathol­o­gist nick­named Dr Death, who said he helped at least 130 pa­tients com­mit sui­cide be­fore he died in 2011.

Nitschke cre­ated the ‘‘De­liv­er­ance,’’ a com­puter pro­gram hooked up to an IV that trig­gered a lethal in­jec­tion of bar­bi­tu­rates af­ter a pa­tient con­firmed he or she wanted to die. Later, he de­vel­oped some­thing called an ‘‘Exit Bag,’’ a breath­ing mask that fun­nels car­bon monox­ide.

Nitschke used it on four pa­tients be­fore Aus­tralia’s eu­thana­sia law was re­scinded. In 1997, he founded Exit In­ter­na­tional, a eu­thana­sia ad­vo­cacy group.

Eu­thana­sia is not le­gal in most places, but it is le­gal in sev­eral Euro­pean coun­tries and in parts of the United States. Nitschke said his ma­chine will al­low those in­ter­ested in eu­thana­sia an eas­ier path for­ward.

‘‘In many coun­tries, sui­cide is not against the law, only as­sist­ing a per­son to com­mit sui­cide is. This is a sit­u­a­tion where one per­son chooses to press a but­ton . . . rather than, for in­stance, stand­ing in front of a train.’’ – Wash­ing­ton Post

Eu­thana­sia ac­tivist Philip Nitschke’s sui­cide ma­chine the Sarco comes with a de­tach­able cof­fin and a hookup for a ni­tro­gen con­tainer.

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