And that’s why you really should never say never in 3D printing. When Sarco was introduced a couple of years ago as a 3D printed assisted suicide pod to simplify euthanasia we wrote that off as a publicity—or at most an artistic—stunt (so much so that we did not even cover the story). But we should not have written it off. Now the Sarco pod has been OK’d by the Swiss authorities (one of the first nations to legalize euthanasia).
The fact that Sarco is 3D printed is not particularly relevant. It’s 3D printed because until now it was a single unit, a prototype to display at art and design events. It is not clear whether 3D printing will be the chosen production method that the suicide pod has been approved for use. It probably will be in the beginning but how much will of course depend on demand.
Some 1,300 people died by assisted suicide in Switzerland in 2020 using the services of the country’s two largest assisted suicide organizations, Exit and Dignitas. The method currently in use to terminate the patient is the ingestion of liquid sodium pentobarbital. After taking the drug, the person will fall asleep within two to five minutes before slipping into a deep coma, followed soon afterward by death. Sarco promises a different approach for a peaceful death, without the need for controlled substances.
Dr. Philip Nitschke, the founder of Australia-registered Exit International, explained that the coffin-like Sarco 3D printed capsule is 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 organization, for example, he said.
“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 suicide pod sits 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. [In an environment where the oxygen is less than 1 percent, after losing consciousness death would occur after approximately 5-10 minutes, according to Philip Nitschke. The goal of Sarco is to remove any need of assistance, which would make using the capsule legal anywhere since no one could be accused of illegally assisting suicide.
“Last year—Nitschke continued—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.”
There are two Sarco prototypes in existence so far, and the third Sarco is now being printed in the Netherlands. If all goes well, the third machine should be ready for operation in Switzerland in 2022.