Dr. Philip Nitschke has been called “the Elon Musk of assisted suicide” by Newsweek in a recent article and his most recent creation has caught the attention of advocates and adversaries alike. His brainchild, called Sarco, essentially allows the user, who must meet certain qualifications, to self-administer liquid nitrogen to lower the oxygen level within the capsule and effectively take their own life.
The creation of such a device raises the hackles of those who feel that assisted suicide is ethnically and morally wrong. Navigating the waters of the controversial subject can be hard, but every human deserves to have the choice to die painlessly and with dignity, even if the choice to die is their own.
The premise of the machine is simple: the 3D-printed pod gives the user the full control over their own morality. Although, there are a variety of safeguards in place in order to prevent misuse of the futuristic pod, such as an online pre-test that screens potential candidates to ensure they are of sound mind. This specific idea has become a point of contention for many of those in opposition of euthanasia; they feel that there’s a direct connection between the decision to commit suicide and psychiatric illness.
Nitschke, in an interview with Vice, explains his own view of assisted suicide and mental illness: “I reject that idea. Someone’s death wish isn’t something that needs to be treated, per se.” Each potential user of the Sarco must be above the age of 50, an age restriction that was set to assuage some countries like the United States; a country that remains very far behind other countries in respect to their views on doctor-assisted suicide/euthanasia.
Another provision put into place is a four-digit code given to the user of each specific Sarco, though this is only given once the online mental test is passed. Once the candidate inputs their four-digit pin the machine will open and be ready for use.
The pin itself only remains active for 24 hours and it’s also important to note that the machine can only be activated from the inside, preventing any kind of foul-play from occurring. The oxygen level within the pod lowers as the machine fills with liquid nitrogen and shortly renders the user unconscious. In about five minutes, the painless process is complete and the pod, which has a two-part design, can then double as a coffin.
The prospect of being able to 3D print a Sarco, whose design will be “free and open-source and placed on the Internet,” according to Nitschke, means that the pod could essentially be used anywhere — including places that might have laws in place that attempt to outlaw assisted suicide. Another element of Sarco is the removal of a doctor acting as a gatekeeper to this world, leaving some to question whether or not this is an altogether ethical move.
By taking a doctor out of the equation, the user of Sarco is put in complete control of their life. The concept of questioning the overall safeness of Sarco seems laughable; the whole premise of the machine is to end a person’s life. The machine doesn’t use any needles or illegal/restricted drugs, ironically making its method of euthanasia “safe.”
The Sarco also gives the user the choice to either black the screen of the pod or utilize the transparent window to enjoy whatever scenery they choose as they exit this world. To some, it might seem sad and irresponsible to offer the Sarco as an option rather than therapy but there are many, myself and Dr. Nitschke included, that believe each human being deserves the right to make their own decisions, regardless if we completely agree with them or not.
Nitschke has been a proponent of assisted suicide for many years, starting with campaigning to legalize euthanasia in Australia in the 90s. The Australian physician has spent much of his life dedicated to the fight to grant those who wish to die the ability to do so peacefully and painlessly. As the founder of an advocacy group called “Exit International,” the physician morbidly deemed “Dr. Death” uses this platform to educate others on the highly controversial topic of assisted suicide.
Now Nitschke is based in in the Netherlands, where euthanasia was legalized in 2002 and has explained in an interview with Vice, that assisted suicide shouldn’t be limited to the terminally ill only: “…Partially due to her, I changed my mind. I became convinced that death should be a right for any sane human.” Those who criticize Nitschke assert that the Sarco might give individuals more of a drive to commit suicide if they no longer have to suffer in doing so. Nitschke explains that those committed to ending their own lives will do so no matter what, so why not offer an option that ends needless suffering?
As of right now, blueprints of the otherworldly machine are projected to be available during the beginning months of 2018 and Nitschke has speculated that the first Sarco will most likely be constructed in Switzerland. With the prospect of death at a user’s literal fingertips, it’s safe to say that as plans for Sarco come into clearer view, the conversation will surely be one to follow.