Switzerland has approved the use of a 3D-printed suicide capsule that can be activated with just the blink of an eye

An assisted suicide device called “Sarco,” short for “sarcophagus,” promises a “painless death,” but one critic called it “just a high-tech gas chamber.”

Critics argue that the biodegradable capsule, which has a futuristic appearance and can be taken anywhere — even to a scenic cliffside — without the use of tubes or monitoring equipment, advocates assisted suicide. Others compare it to a gas chamber.

The capsule’s sleek design was chosen to “create a sense of celebration: a journey to a ‘new destination’ and dispel the ‘unpleasantness’ factor,” according to the website of Exit International, the company that created the device.

There is no need for special skills, physician involvement or even expensive or hard-to-find medications when using Sarco, the company said. “Sarco’s goal is to eliminate the need for any assistance. This ensures that any use of Sarco is legal.”

The nonprofit organization was founded by an Australian physician, Dr. Philip Nitschke, who claims he was the first in the world to give his patients a legal lethal injection on a voluntary basis. In 1996, he helped four terminally ill patients die under Australia’s Terminally Ill Rights Act.

Nitschke told SwissInfo how the capsule works: “A person gets into the capsule and lies down. It’s very convenient. He is asked a few questions, and when he answers, he can press a button inside the capsule to activate the mechanism in his own time. The whole procedure takes about 30 seconds. Death occurs as a result of hypoxia and hypocapnia – oxygen and carbon dioxide starvation, respectively. There is no panic or feeling of suffocation.”

According to a press release from Exit International, after the person activates the mechanism, the capsule “begins the process of filling the insides with nitrogen, which reduces oxygen levels from 21 percent to 1 percent.”

Nitschke says the person will “feel disoriented and slightly euphoric before losing consciousness.”

Nitschke wrote that he now believes everyone should have the right to “die with dignity,” not just terminally ill people.

“My vision has shifted from supporting the idea of dying with dignity for the terminally ill (the medical model) to supporting the concept of dying with dignity for any reasonable adult with a ‘life experience’ (the human rights model),” he wrote. “We understand this to mean anyone over the age of 50.”

Sarco’s design, which allows the device to be activated by eye movement or voice control, was inspired by Tony Nicklinson, who suffered from locked-in syndrome after suffering a stroke in 2005. Lockout syndrome is a neurological condition in which a person is completely paralyzed from all volitional muscles except those that control the eyes.

Nicklinson’s attorneys reached out to Nitschka to see what options he had, but the device was not completed before Nicklinson died in 2012, refusing to eat or drink after catching pneumonia.

Jeroen Kramer, president of the Westerkirk Church Council in Amsterdam, told the Independent newspaper that the church is against the use of the machine.

“We will not and cannot support any proposal to use such equipment,” he said. “Westerkerk will never support people proposing equipment that Dr. Nitschke advocates, and we seriously question whether this promotes a careful and cautious discussion of the issue.”

Nitschke told the Independent that some people compare the Sarco capsule to a gas chamber. “Gas will never be an acceptable method of assisted suicide in Europe because of the negative connotation of the Holocaust,” he said. “Some even say it’s just a glorified gas chamber.”

The nonprofit was founded by an Australian doctor, Dr. Philip Nitschke, who claims he was the first in the world to give his patients a legal lethal injection on a voluntary basis. In 1996, he helped four terminally ill patients die under Australia’s Terminally Ill Rights Act.

Nitschke told SwissInfo how the capsule works: “A person gets into the capsule and lies down. It’s very convenient. He is asked a few questions, and when he answers, he can press a button inside the capsule to activate the mechanism in his own time. The whole procedure takes about 30 seconds. Death occurs as a result of hypoxia and hypocapnia – oxygen and carbon dioxide starvation, respectively. There is no panic or feeling of suffocation.”

According to a press release from Exit International, after the person activates the mechanism, the capsule “begins the process of filling the insides with nitrogen, which reduces oxygen levels from 21 percent to 1 percent.”

Nitschke says a person will “feel disoriented and slightly euphoric before losing consciousness.”

Nitschke wrote in 2018 that he now believes everyone should have the right to “die with dignity,” not just terminally ill people.

“My vision has shifted from supporting the idea of dying with dignity for the terminally ill (the medical model) to supporting the concept of dying with dignity for any reasonable adult with a ‘life experience’ (the human rights model),” he wrote for HuffPos t. “We understand this to mean anyone over the age of 50.”

Sarco’s design, which allows the device to be activated by eye movement or voice control, was inspired by Tony Nicklinson, who suffered from locked-in syndrome after suffering a stroke in 2005. Lockout syndrome is a neurological condition in which a person is completely paralyzed from all volitional muscles except those that control the eyes.

Nicklinson’s attorneys reached out to Nitschka to see what options he had, but the device was not completed before Nicklinson died in 2012, refusing to eat or drink after catching pneumonia.

Jeroen Kramer, president of the Westerkirk Church Council in Amsterdam, told the Independent newspaper that the church is against the use of the machine.

“We will not and cannot support any proposal to use such equipment,” he said. “Westerkerk will never support people proposing equipment that Dr. Nitschke advocates, and we seriously question whether this promotes a careful and cautious discussion of the issue.”

Nitschke told the Independent that some people compare the Sarco capsule to a gas chamber. “Gas will never be an acceptable method of assisted suicide in Europe because of the negative connotation of the Holocaust,” he said. “Some even say it’s just a glorified gas chamber.”

Assisted suicide is only allowed in seven countries in the world — Canada, Belgium, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Spain, the Netherlands and Colombia — and most of those countries require a person to be terminally ill or have a terminal illness. In the United States, not all states allow it, but eight states do. Other countries, such as Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay, are drafting bills to decriminalize euthanasia.

“The open-source plans will be freely available online. I’d like to think it will resonate widely and be able to help rethink the conversation about death and people’s experiences with it.”

If you are thinking about suicide or are worried about a friend or loved one, please contact Suicide Prevention Canada toll-free at 1.833.456.4566 or text 45645 from 4 p.m. to midnight Eastern time. If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call 911.

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