Euthanasia expert Nitschke unveils ‘suicide machine’ at funeral fair
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.