Scientists have created a 'suicide machine' that could be controlled with the blink of an eye
Should we have the right to die? It's a divisive question and one that regularly sparks furious debate among friends, family and strangers. In 2017, Gallup's annual Values and Beliefs poll asserted that 73 per cent of Americans supported euthanasia, the highest levels seen since 2005. Regardless, it appears that euthanasia is ultimately an issue that the country as a whole will never agree on.
With this in mind, the arrival of a controversial "suicide machine" is sure to spark debate about the rights and wrongs of assisted suicide. The machine in question is officially named as a "Sacrophagus" (or Sarco for short) and went on display at the Amsterdam funeral show in late April, drawing large crowds and causing concern among detractors of assisted suicide.
The inventor responsible is 70-year-old euthanasia activist Doctor Philip Nitschke, who has been dubbed "Doctor Death" for creating the 3D-printed device that fills with gas in order to end a person's life. Officially announced by Nitschke's Exit International foundation in February, the machine comes in two parts: a reusable machine base and a capsule that can be detached and used as a coffin.
The portable machine works by filling a capsule with nitrogen, which induces hypoxic death to the occupant, with its creator claiming that it provides people with a quick and painless death, saying: “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... A Sarco death is painless. There’s no suffocation, choking sensation or air hunger as the user breathes easily in a low-oxygen environment. The sensation is one of well-being and intoxication."
Before being able to put it into service, the prospective user will reportedly be asked to pass an online test to show that they are in a sane state of mind and desire to die of their own volition. After this, they will allegedly receive a capsule access code that's valid for 24 hours. People who tested it at the Amsterdam funeral show were able to use VR glasses choose a view of the Alps or the sea as the last thing they see, before pressing the suicide button, which will turn everything black.
However, to make the device even more revolutionary for those wishing to end their life, the Sarco will also be able to be operated by the blink of an eye. When asked if his creation would cater for those who had conditions that made them unable to speak or move, such as British man Tony Nicklinson who suffered from locked-in syndrome, Nitschke stated: “While he may have needed some help to get into the machine, the actual action that initiated the flow of gas could be controlled by Tony."
Predictably though, not everyone is thrilled at the arrival of the Sarco. The machine has been heavily criticised by euthanasia opponents who have likened it to the gas chambers used in the Holocaust, with Twitter user Devin Sena writing: "73 years after the Holocaust, people are now inviting others to *volunteer* to be gassed to death in the name of ‘freedom.’ We can’t let euthanasia touch America." In addition, user Mylo Hebron wrote: "There is something terribly wrong with us.. We are willing to spend so much money on a suicide machine rather than putting our money in the right places so we give people a reason to live.. Naahh, this is just wrong."
Dr Nitschke, who co-designed the device with Dutch designer Alexander Bannink, accepts that there is still opposition to his methods, saying: “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.”
Asked further about the controversy surrounding euthanasia and legal hurdles, Nitschke said: "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. I believe it’s a fundamental human right (to choose when to die). It’s not just some medical privilege for the very sick. If you’ve got the precious gift of life, you should be able to give that gift away at the time of your choosing."
Recognised for his dedicated work to legalise euthanasia, Nitschke was the first doctor in the world to administer a legal, voluntary, lethal injection. After a successful campaign to have a legal euthanasia law passed in Australia's Northern Territory, he successfully assisted four people in ending their lives before the law was overturned by the Government of Australia. In addition, he has developed machines in the past that could be used by individuals to inject themselves with lethal doses of barbiturates.
Despite the controversy, the arrival of the "suicide machine" still won't make a bit of difference when it comes to euthanasia laws across the world. Reportedly, the first fully-functional Sarco device is set to be built later this year in the Netherlands, before being shipped to Switzerland, one of the few countries where assisted suicide is legal. Meanwhile, the battle to legalise assisted suicide rages on.