The inventor of a ‘suicide machine’ called the Sarco Pod has explained how the machine actually works, why he believes that not only the sick and disabled should have the right to die, and how the machine could legally be used in the United Kingdom.
Dr Philip Nitschke conceived the idea for the Sarco Pod, which also doubles up as a coffin for the deceased, after watching many patients died during assisted suicide procedures using drugs such as barbiturates.
He wanted to create ‘peaceful, reliable, drug-free’ method of dying, and one that could be used in the complete control of even those who have very severe illnesses such as locked-in syndrome.
His machine works by flooding the entirely 3D printable capsule with nitrogen gas, causing the user of the Sarco Pod to enter a state of cerebral hypoxia, causing – he believes – a swift and painless death.
“I’ve always wanted to remove the role [and the] need for professional people to prescribe difficult drugs to use”, he explained.
“The idea of using a gas, in this case an inert gas came up, because if you can find a suitably elegant and attractive container, climb in, and then flood that container with an inert gas like nitrogen so that the level of oxygen rapidly drops, you rapidly go into a state of cerebral hypoxia, which is pretty quick, and you’ll faint very quickly and die within a few minutes.
“That’s the idea behind it.”
Obviously, the idea of assisted suicide raises a whole host of ethical quandaries, and the practice remains illegal in many countries, the UK included.
With that in mind, Dr Nitschke’s company Exit International proposes to sell only the designs for the machine, which can then be printed at the behest of then intended user, and used independently and – theoretically – legally.
He continued: “If we go around giving items to people who want to die, that is assisting a suicide.
“But, if we give people the program so that they make their own device, that’s something which would not be considered to be in breach of the laws of most countries.
“It would be possible to use in the UK."
“The original idea came from the UK, I was contacted by the lawyers of Tony Nicklinson about five years ago.
“[He was] seeking permission through the British courts [to kill himself].
“His argument was that he couldn’t commit suicide because he had locked-in syndrome and was so disabled that he wasn’t able to do what he claimed an able-bodied person would be able to do, that is kill themselves.
“His lawyers were saying that he was effectively having his right to suicide denied to him because of his physical incapacity.
“They asked me if it would be possible to design something where he wouldn’t require very much in the way of assistance, that was you climb in and somehow or other press the button, be it by eye movement or voice activation, or whatever.
“So, even someone as seriously disabled as he would be able to end his life.
“That’s how the idea came about – to minimise firstly the need to get heavily controlled restricted drugs like the barbiturates used in [places where assisted suicide is legal such as] Switzerland mostly.
“That is unavailable in the UK unless you’ve got a very special reason.
“Also, to make the process as controlled as closely as possible by the individual who wants to take this step.”
Tony Nicklinson’s case drew much public sympathy at the time, and many supported his belief in his own right to die.
However, Dr Nitschke believes that it is not only those with such profound disabilities as Nicklinson who have the right to die.
Moreover, he believes that anyone who is ‘of sound mind’, has the capacity, and can legally declare their intentions to do so should be allowed to choose to die.
“It became clear to me that it should be a human right that you should be able to take that step [to die] if you’re an adult of sound mind.
“The reasons for doing it shouldn’t have to be the ones that are acceptable to me, in other words, just because of the way the law was structured you had to be terminally ill.
“People who weren’t sick were coming along and they had very compelling social reasons, and I couldn’t see any reason why they shouldn’t.
“In fact, they said to me ‘what gives you the right to make this decision just because you’ve got some medical training.
“The classic one was someone who said, ‘look I’m 104-years-old, but I’m not sick’.
“Those people are not eligible under those laws, you’ve got to be terminally ill.”
Dr Nitschke found the laws in Switzerland were the most amenable to such cases, although it wasn’t without problems.
He added: “There’s no legal reason in Switzerland why you can’t just go in and say ‘look, I’m 70-years-old and I just feel like now is the time to die’.
“You can legally get help, but you’ve then got to find a doctor who is prepared to give drugs to a person who is not sick.
“That causes some difficulty within the Swiss medical association which says that doctors should only give drugs to people who are sick.”
“The Sarco does that elegantly by not using these drugs, it doesn’t need access to these drugs, it uses nitrogen which is readily available anywhere.”
Dr Nitschke’s personal position remains that anyone of sound mind should be able to end their own life, and he stated that it’s the person’s own business to have their reasons.
“I would argue that you’ve got every right to do it, I don’t think you should be prevented just because you might change your mind” he explained.
However, Exit International has taken a slightly revised approach, restricting use of the Sarco Pod to those who are over the age of 50, or those with a significant and compelling medical argument.
However, ‘as long as you’re of sound mind’ you can get the designs.
He described several cases of couples asking for assistance where one of the pair has an incurable condition and the other does not want to continue living without them.
Whilst that is legally permissible in Switzerland, it is not in many other countries such as the UK.
Currently under UK law, anyone found to have assisted in the suicide of another person can be jailed for up to 14 years.
LADbible has contacted the Ministry of Justice for a comment.
Here's a list of the leading mental health helplines and services that are just a call away in the UK:
- Samaritans are there 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and will talk to you about anything that's bothering you. You can call 116 123 (free from any phone), email [email protected] or visit some branches in person. You can also call the Welsh Language Line on 0300 123 3011 from 7pm to 11pm every day.
- The Mix take calls from under 25s on 0808 808 4994 from Sunday to Friday, 2pm to 11pm. You can request support by email using the form on The Mix website or using their crisis text messenger service.
- Papyrus HOPELINEUK is there for under 35s struggling with suicidal feelings, or those who are concerned about a young person who might be struggling. You can call them on 0800 068 4141 on weekdays from 9am to 10pm, on weekends from 2pm to 10pm, and on bank holidays from 2pm to 10pm. You can also email [email protected] or text 07786 209 697.
- The Nightline website allows students to see if their university or college offers a night-time listening service. Nightline phone operators are all students too.
- Switchboard is there for people who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender and can be reached on 0300 330 0630 from 10am to 10pm every day. You can also email here or use their webchat service. Phone operators all identify as LGBT+.
- The Community Advice and Listening Line (C.A.L.L). is available for those who live in Wales and can be contacted on 0800 132 737, which is open 24/7. You can also text 'help' followed by a question to 81066.
Featured Image Credit: Exit International/Sarco/Alamy