Suicide pod dubbed ‘Tesla of euthanasia’ to be banned in Switzerland

Suicide pod dubbed ‘Tesla of euthanasia’ to be banned in Switzerland

The machine, called the Sarco, can be 3D-printed (Picture: MATTEOR)

A futuristic pod which has been dubbed the ‘Tesla of euthanasia’ has caused a stir in Switzerland and could be banned, prosecutors have said.

The pod, which is named the Sarco, was unveiled at the Venice Design Festival in 2019 and aims to remove the ‘yuk factor’ linked to death, makers say.

The first person to use the machine in Switzerland was scheduled to do so next week but now Swedish prosecutors are looking into banning the pod.

Voluntary assisted suicide, in which somebody is given the means to end their own life, has long been legal in Switzerland.

But the Swiss tabloid Blick reports that the Schaffhausen public prosecutor’s office is threatening anyone who uses the pod to assist in the death of someone in the canton, akin to a county, with five years in jail.

What is the Sacro?

It looks like something from a sci-fi film set in the 31st century.

But this pod is actually a suicide machine called the Sacro.

It’s been touted by its creator as a way for people to end their lives painlessly and without a doctor’s help.

How it works is by filling the capsule with nitrogen and rapidly decreasing the oxygen levels, according to its website.

But for the capsule to be active, the person must state their name and where they are and confirm they know what will happen once the nitrogen flow starts.

The process takes around 10 minutes – there is also an emergency stop button.

The entire process is filmed, with the footage provided to a coroner. Users can choose whether the window is transparent or not, so they can have a particular view as the machine runs.

‘Where you die is certainly an important factor,’ the inventor has previously said.

The Sacro, which is short for sarcophagus, doubles as a coffin. It is made of biodegradable materials.

Initially, the device was found not to violate Swiss law. Yet public prosecutor Peter Sticher warned in a letter to the pod’s creator Philip Nitschke, 76, he would ‘absolutely’ face ‘serious legal consequences’ if the device is used in Schaffhausen.

‘There is no reliable information about the method of killing,’ the letter reads.

One review by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) concluded that if the device malfunctioned, it would fail to induce a state of unconsciousness in the user, likely leading to a painful death.

It is also ‘completely unclear who has control over which mechanical process during the dying process,’ Sticher’s letter adds.

Under section 115 of the Swiss penal code, it would not be possible to say who is responsible for the person’s death.

The pod would have been powered up for the first time in Switzerland next week (Picture: Ratal)

The code says: ‘Whoever, from selfish motives, induces another person to commit suicide or aids him in it, shall be confined in the penitentiary for not over five years, or in the prison, provided that the suicide has either been completed or attempted.’

Since 1942, Switzerland has allowed assisted suicide, with supporters stressing personal choice and control of the dying process as key.

Swiss law says that people seeking to end their own lives need to be of sound mind and have not reached their decision due to ‘selfish reasons.’

With many countries having tougher laws on the practice, people who travel to Switzerland to legally die by suicide are known as ‘suicide tourists’.

Between 2008 and 2012, 611 people travelled to the country to do this, the majority were from Germany, the UK and France, according to researchers.

Nitschke, an Australian doctor and decades-long right-to-die advocate, was inspired to make the Sarco after the death of Tony Nickilinson in 2012.

Nicklinson, who was suffering from locked-in syndrome, spent years requesting help in ending his life but was rejected by British judges.

Dr Philip Nitschke, dubbed by the media as ‘Dr Death’, is behind the pod (Picture: Getty Images)

‘Death shouldn’t be something you do hidden away in a back room somewhere,’ he told The Independent in 2018.

Nitschke hoped the Sarco available for 3-D printing in Switzerland by 2022 – meaning it would not be for sale. A lawyer hired by his nonprofit Exit International found no conflict with Swiss law. 

A doctor must then prescribe them a lethal medication known as sodium pentobarbital. But Nitschke says his machine bypasses this law as it does not require drugs.

This, however, isn’t a good thing, say some experts. Nerstin Noelle Vkinger, a doctor and professor at the University of Zurich, told the Swiss newspaper Neue Zurcher Zeitung in 2021: ‘Medical devices are regulated because they are supposed to be safer than other products.

‘Just because a product is not beneficial to health does not mean that it is not also affected by these additional safety requirements.’

Others worry that the machine may encourage people to die by suicide who otherwise might have not done so.

‘What if it is accessed by someone not in their right mind?’ Dr Stephen Duckworth, the founder of the British company Disability Matters Global, wrote in The Independent.

‘Or a child? Or if it is used to abuse others? What if it doesn’t result in immediate or peaceful death and the individual is left alone without any recourse to call for help?’

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The UN has also expressed death over just how ‘painless’ dying by asphyxiation with nitrogen is. In January, murderer Kenneth Eugene Smith was executed this way in an Alabama jail for the first time in the US.

‘The use, for the first time in humans and on an experimental basis, of a method of execution that has been shown to cause suffering in animals is simply outrageous,’ UN experts said, calling Smith’s death ‘gruesome’.

Swiss right-to-die groups have also distanced themselves from Sarco, including the clinic Dignitas and Lifecircle.

Dr Nitschkeis is all too aware of how his critics see the Sarco. ‘Some have even said that it’s just a glorified gas chamber,’ he said.

Need support?

For emotional support you can call the Samaritans 24-hour helpline on 116 123, email jo@samaritans.org, visit a Samaritans branch in person or go to the Samaritans website.

If you’re a young person, or concerned about a young person, you can also contact PAPYRUS Prevention of Young Suicide UK. Their HOPELINK digital support platform is open 24/7, or you can call 0800 068 4141, text 07860039967 or email: pat@papyrus-uk.org between the hours of 9am and midnight.

Get in touch with our news team by emailing us at webnews@metro.co.uk.

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