Philip Nitshke is called “Doctor Death”. This controversial humanist and former Australian doctor has spent years advocating for the right to euthanasia. He is also the creator of Exit International. This is the company with which he is developing Sarco, an assisted suicide capsule that would theoretically be ready in 2022. That promise hasn’t been kept, so what’s the status of this project?
How does it work. The “sarcophagus”—hence the name—makes use of nitrogen and reduces oxygen levels to prevent panic or suffocation and anguish before unconsciousness is reached. That means that according to Nitshke there is at most a certain disorientation and even slight euphoria before consciousness is lost. Death occurs 5 to 10 minutes later from hypoxia (oxygen deprivation) and hypocapnia (carbon dioxide deprivation).
no doctors. This capsule, created in 2017, can be built with a 3D printer, and is activated from the inside by the person who intends to die. Nitschke’s goal is to “de-medicalize death”, avoiding the need for a doctor to be present in the process.
Switzerland, candidate. In October 2022 Nitschke was overseeing the construction of a new version of Sarco—the third prototype created by Exit International—before shipping it to Switzerland. There the first of the candidates is waiting to be able to use it. The Alpine country is one of the few to legalize assisted suicide, but candidates must prove their mental capacity, which must be evaluated by a psychiatrist.
“Psychological Algorithm”. At Exit International they also want to avoid that obligation by creating a very special algorithm. One with which Nitschke hopes that people can perform a mental self-assessment to ensure that the patient is in full possession of their faculties when making this decision. If the person passes this online test, the program will provide a four-digit code to activate Sarco. Even so, the creator of this initiative admits that although that is the objective, “the project is proving to be very difficult.”
“The second Sarco was a disaster”. This was stated by Nitschke himself, who explained that while the first prototype was simply exhibited in Germany and Poland but never used, the second had problems. These manufacturing problems have now been solved, and according to this doctor this third prototype “is the one that will be used.” Of course: Nitschke has not contacted the Swiss government for approval of the device.
Euthanasia in Europe. According to Euronews, euthanasia is legal in Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Germany and Spain. Assisted suicide is legal in Switzerland, but euthanasia is not legal there. Austria, Finland and Norway allow passive euthanasia, that is, making the decision to refuse artificial hydration or nutrition.
Only in very specific cases. The conditions are similar between some countries and others: in Belgium patients can only access euthanasia if they have an incurable disease and suffer constantly physically or mentally without relief. In the Netherlands, the law determines that the patient has unbearable suffering without any improvement forecast and without alternatives.
And in Spain? In our country, this practice is regulated under Organic Law 3/2021, of March 24, 2021. It specifies similar terms: the situation must be one of “serious, chronic and disabling illness or serious and incurable illness, suffering from a unbearable suffering that cannot be alleviated under conditions he deems acceptable”
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