The Sarco pod, created by Australian doctor Philip Nitschke, aims to make assisted dying as painless as possible for the patient. He also intends on taking the process out of doctors’ hands entirely by relying on technology.
Nicknamed Dr Death, Nitschke was the first doctor in the world to administer a voluntary legal lethal injection, which involved the patient pressing a button on a laptop to release drugs into their system. He is very vocal about his support of assisted dying for the terminally ill and the suffering elderly. This courtesy (though devoid of consent) is already commonly extended to pets and animals who have degenerated in their illness beyond treatment. The topic of euthanasia is no simple one.
The term euthanasia involves the act of asking another individual to help in carrying out suicide, whilst assisted dying occurs when the individual is given drugs they must take themselves to end their life. Both are broadly described by the former term.
Euthanasia can be done passively, which involves weaning patients off of medication, or actively, the more controversial option wherein life-ending drugs are given to the individual.
Though active euthanasia is widely stigmatised and unavailable in most places, including the UK, there are several territories where it is allowed. Countries such as The Netherlands, Spain, Belgium, and Luxembourg, have permitted this, though Switzerland is arguably most ubiquitous with assisted dying.
In the country, physician-assisted dying is not only legal, but there is no minimum age requirement, state of symptoms, or diagnosis – around 1.5% of all Swiss deaths can be attributed to this.
Nitschke’s assisted dying advocacy organisation, Exit International, announced that the Sarco has been approved by legal counsel (though no formal review has been made), meaning that the product could be made available in Switzerland as soon as next year.
Prior to this, the country offered euthanasia through a partnership of physicians and non-profits, who carry out the process through either administering drugs (such as opioids) or lethal injection.
Psychological checks must be carried out before assisted deaths, and in a bid to wholly remove the medical aspect from euthanasia, Sarco aim to create AI to speed along this process. This can help pave the way for many suffering, as not only are there many legal restrictions, but this process costs almost €12,000 for UK residents in Switzerland.
The Sarco pod is operated from the inside, with the user deciding when they would like to commence the process. When activated, a nitrogen tank releases gas, reducing the amount of oxygen within the chamber. This will cause inert gas asphyxiation, rendering the user unconscious, and eventually killing them within 10 minutes.
An emergency button and escape hatch are also built-in for safety.
The pod is designed in the shape of a futuristic coffin and is propped up on a stand. It also contains windows, and the relative portability of the device means that the patient can choose to take it to a place that is significant to them, such as a field or a beach. This way, the process of death is not only painless but euphoric for those who choose this method.
When the patient is deceased, the pod can also act as a coffin.
Interestingly, the design is natively 3D printed, and instead of selling the Sarco as a product, the blueprints will be available online for those who would like to print it for themselves. This method lessens the legal troubles that could be incurred by the producers for helping someone die, due to the illegal status of assisted dying in most countries.
Though more accessible, the designs will still be heavily regulated, unavailable to those aged under 50 and, even when printed, will still be strictly restricted for use.
This all sounds very dystopian and the Sarco, an eerily futuristic play on the word sarcophagus – a decorated stone coffin made popular by Ancient Egyptian antiquities – has been accused of glamourising suicide with its sleek, futuristic design.
There are many arguments advocating for and against the legalisation and morality of euthanasia and assisted dying, and it continues to be a heavily polarising subject, and rightfully so, as there are many things to consider.
First coined by English philosopher Francis Bacon, the etymology of the word ‘euthanasia’ comes from the Greek words for ‘good death’, and is intended as a form of mercy. This direct translation is why proponents tend to argue in favour of it. Individuals who are medically incurable and living a life of suffering believe that ending their lives is the only way they will get their peace.
Humans are also complex beings, with minds, morals, and tolerances of our own. With independence and intelligence, complete bodily autonomy should be striven for – we are the ones occupying our own bodies, and one should have the right to do whatever one wants with it, so long as it does not harm or violate the rights of others. The right to die must come with the right to live.
Furthermore, for those ravaged by diseases and incapacitating senility, euthanasia allows them to have a death with dignity, and control the situation that they are in. They did not choose to become ill, and with personal liberty, they are able to live or die in the way they decide.
German physician Karl Friedrich Heinrich Marx believed that doctors had a moral duty to help alleviate the suffering of patients, branding it as a science ‘which checks oppressing features of illness, relieves pain, and renders the supreme and inescapable hour a most peaceful one’. Additionally, he believed that for sick people, there is a distinction between the wellbeing of the soul and the medical healing of the body. Through this, it can be argued that if the soul is suffering due to the state of the body, euthanasia may be integral for the soul to cease in happiness.
There are a number of reasons why many still do not agree with euthanasia. Moral arguments, taken from religious texts, largely forbid followers from shortening one’s own life by any means.
Additionally, many worry that patients may be guilted and pressured into euthanasia by family members who might wish to exploit them for financial and social means.
Life is valuable, sacred, and all efforts to protect and conserve it must be put into place. This is the Benthamian, utilitarian argument made by those who are against euthanasia, which looks to the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest number of people as the most moral path. On the basis of emotions, this negatively affects the loved ones of the individual undergoing the procedure, causing hurt, anger, and pain to these people who many feel left behind.
The euthanasia discussed above is voluntary in that physicians have deemed that the patient is lucid and of sound mind when they say they want their lives ended. However, in cases of involuntary euthanasia, wherein the patient is unconscious or unable to make the decision for themselves, people argue that the lack of consent constitutes murder. It may lead to individuals dying against their will.
There are sound arguments on both sides, and because of the complexity of the matter and conflicting opinions of lawmakers, euthanasia isn’t yet a universally accepted and legal concept.
Regardless, we can agree that technologies such as the Sarco must be regarded with a great deal of importance. Even if you are against the notion of euthanasia, you may still agree that for those who do undertake the procedure, their experience should be as painless as possible.
About the Author: Shadine Taufik
Shadine Taufik is a contributing Features writer with expertise in digital sociology and culture, philosophy of technology, and computational creativity.