Assisted suicide capsules coming soon in Switzerland

Assisted suicide capsules coming soon in Switzerland


Sarco, the assisted suicide capsule developed by the non-profit organization Exit International, is now legally approved in Switzerland. It aims to replace the ingestion of sodium pentobarbital in liquid form currently used for medical aid at the end of life.

Switzerland has few legal barriers to medically assisted suicide. Every year, hundreds of people (about 1300 in 2020) most often those with a terminal illness choose to end their lives by this method. Other European countries, including Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands, have similar policies in place.

Recall that “passive euthanasia” implies the cessation of medical interventions that are supposed to prolong the patient’s life (refusal of therapeutic stubbornness). In the case of medically assisted suicide, a patient chooses to die with the help of a medical professional who uses active means to end the patient’s life painlessly.

Currently, the method used is the ingestion of sodium pentobarbital in liquid form. The person falls asleep in two to five minutes, before plunging into a deep coma and switching off. While the technique promises a “peaceful death”, it does require the use of controlled substances.

Here, Exit International, based in Australia, has developed an “autonomous capsule” for assisted suicide. Named Sarco and printed in 3D, it has just been legally approved in Switzerland. According to SwissInfo, Dr. Philip Nitschke, the former physicist behind the cabin, requested a “high-level opinion” on the legality of the device’s use last year from the country’s medical examination committee.

A suicide with nitrogen
According to Dr. Nitschke, this “death capsule” can be “activated from the inside by the person intending to die” and “towed anywhere”.

Once the patient is inside, the cabin will be flooded with nitrogen, quickly reducing the oxygen level to 1% in about thirty seconds (compared to 21% in normal times).

“The person will feel a little disoriented and may feel slightly euphoric before losing consciousness,” Dr Nitschke points out. “Death will then occur, about five to ten minutes later by hypoxia and hypocapnia (oxygen and carbon dioxide deprivation, respectively). There will be no panic, no feeling of suffocation”.

Note that for now, a doctor will still have to be present upstream to perform a psychiatric examination, but eventually Dr. Nitschke plans to develop an artificial intelligence screening system. “Naturally, there is a lot of skepticism, especially from psychiatrists,” agrees the inventor. “In the idea, we could imagine a person doing an online test before receiving a code to access the Sarco”.

According to Exit International, the first operational unit could be deployed as early as next year. In the meantime, some features, such as a camera necessary for communication and recording informed consent, have yet to be developed.