Editor’s note: A previous version of this report incorrectly reported that Switzerland had formally approved the pod.
A new way to die by assisted suicide could soon be available in Switzerland. The Sarco Suicide Pod is a 3-D-printed portable coffin-like capsule with windows that can be transported to a tranquil place for a person’s final moments of life.
Conventional assisted-suicide methods have generally involved a chemical substance. Inventor Philip Nitschke of Exit International told the website SwissInfo.ch that his “death pod” offers a different approach. “We want to remove any kind of psychiatric review from the process and allow the individual to control the method themselves,” he said. “Our aim is to develop an artificial-intelligence screening system to establish the person’s mental capacity. Naturally, there is a lot of skepticism, especially on the part of psychiatrists.”
The pod can be activated from inside and can give the person intending to die various options for where they want to be for their final moments. “The machine can be towed anywhere for the death,” he said. “It can be in an idyllic outdoor setting or in the premises of an assisted-suicide organization, for example.”
To qualify to use the pod, the person who wants to die must answer an online survey that is meant to prove whether they are making the decision of their own accord. If they pass, they will be told the location of the pod and given an access code.
Once inside, the person intending to end their life will have to answer pre-recorded questions and press a button that will start the process of flooding the interior with nitrogen, which will quickly reduce the oxygen level inside from 21 percent to 1 percent. “The person will get into the capsule and lie down,” he said, adding, “It’s very comfortable.”
He said the person will likely feel disorientated or euphoric. “The whole thing takes about 30 seconds,” he said “Death takes place through hypoxia and hypocapnia, oxygen and carbon dioxide deprivation, respectively. There is no panic, no choking.”
In 2020, around 1,300 people died by assisted suicide in Switzerland, almost all by ingesting liquid sodium pentobarbital, which puts a patient into a deep coma before killing them. Assisted suicide is also legal in the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Canada.
The Sarco Suicide Pod is expected to be operational in 2022, although there are competing claims about whether it will be available to use in Switzerland. The manufacturers claim that an independent “legal review” found that it would be legal under Swiss law, but some other experts do not believe that to be the case.
The company has made three prototypes, but one was not “aesthetically pleasing” so it will not be used, it says. The company has not yet announced how much it will cost to use the service.
If you or a loved one are struggling with suicidal thoughts, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.