The 3D-printed assisted suicide Sarco Pod capsule hasn't been approved under Swiss euthanasia laws yet
Quite the thorny issue from a moral and religious standpoint, euthanasia has nevertheless already been legalized in several countries like the Netherlands or Australia. Recently, one piece of news from the official international service of the Swiss radio and television company SRG SSR made the rounds, claiming that a 3D-printed assisted suicide capsule called the Sarco Pod has passed the legal euthanasia muster in the country. It seems, however, that the information has been based solely on the following claims by Dr. Philip Nitschke, the founder of the Australian Exit International organization which invented the Sarco Pod:
Last year we sought senior advice on the legality of using Sarco in Switzerland for assisted dying. This review has been completed and we’re very pleased with the result which found that we hadn’t overlooked anything. There are no legal issues at all...
We spoke to various groups in Switzerland, including those with whom we have already worked on individual cases of euthanasia, in order to offer 'Sarco' for use in Switzerland. This would be done in collaboration with a local organization.
When reached on his Dutch phone number to provide the legal review documents that show the Sarco Pod can be approved for use under Swiss euthanasia laws, Dr. Nitschke dismissed the callers. They also asked the organizations which provide assisted suicide services in Switzerland, and none of them intended to integrate the Sarco Pod in their euthanasia practice. In fact, Dignitas was quite dismissive about it:
In view of [our] established, safe and proven practice, we cannot imagine that a technologized capsule for a self-determined end of life will meet with broad acceptance and / or interest in Switzerland... What kind of 'legal approval' is it about? Who prepared the 'report' and what was the question asked?
EXIT's German and Swiss branch VP Juerg Wiler also knew nothing about a potential approval and cooperation on the Sarco Pod:
We do not see 'Sarco' or the suicide capsule as an alternative to the accompaniment of suicide, as carried out by EXIT. There are many question marks about the outlined method for assisting suicide by Mr. Nitschke.
In the original interview with Dr. Nitschke, whose title subsequently changed from "Suicide capsule legally permitted in Switzerland" to the more apt "Sarco suicide capsule hopes to enter Switzerland," the Sarco Pod operation is described as follows:
It’s a 3-D printed capsule, activated from the inside by the person intending to die. The machine can be towed anywhere for the death. It can be in an idyllic outdoor setting or in the premises of an assisted suicide organisation, for example. The person will get into the capsule and lie down. It’s very comfortable. They will be asked a number of questions and when they have answered, they may press the button inside the capsule activating the mechanism in their own time. The capsule is sitting on a piece of equipment that will flood the interior with nitrogen, rapidly reducing the oxygen level to 1 percent from 21 percent in about 30 seconds. The person will feel a little disoriented and may feel slightly euphoric before they lose consciousness. Death takes place through hypoxia and hypocapnia, oxygen and carbon dioxide deprivation, respectively. There is no panic, no choking feeling.
One can survive in an environment with 1% oxygen for approximately five to ten minutes. Here the assisted suicide method of the Sarco Pod differs from the current euthanasia practice in Switzerland, which involves ingesting liquid sodium pentobarbital. Last year, about 1300 people used the services of the country’s largest assisted suicide organizations - EXIT and Dignitas - but it seems that none of them has expressed an interest in working with Philip Nitschke's 3D-printed Sarco Pod euthanasia capsule just yet.