Maker of suicide pod plans to launch
The company behind a 3D-printed pod which can help carry out assisted suicide has said it is confident it could be used in Switzerland as early as next year.
Sarco commissioned a Swiss legal expert, who found that the machine did not break any laws in the country.
But other lawyers questioned his findings.
And assisted-suicide organisation Dignitas said it would be unlikely to meet “much acceptance”.
Assisted suicide, in which somebody is given the means to end their own life, is legal in Switzerland. About 1,300 people died there in this way in 2020.
Both assisted suicide and euthanasia, in which a doctor ends the life of somebody who wants to die, are illegal in the UK.
The current method used in Switzerland is to provide the person with a series of liquids that, if ingested, will end the person’s life.
By contrast, the pod – which can be placed anywhere – is flooded with nitrogen, reducing the oxygen levels rapidly.
The process would make the person inside lose consciousness and die in approximately 10 minutes.
The suicide pod is activated from the inside and also has an emergency button to exit.
Daniel Huerlimann, a legal expert and assistant professor at the University of St Gallen, was asked by Sarco to explore whether the use of the suicide pod would break any Swiss laws.
He told the BBC that his findings suggested the pod “did not constitute a medical device”, so would not be covered by the Swiss Therapeutic Products Act.
He also believed it would not fall foul of laws governing the use of nitrogen, weapons or product safety.
“This means that the pod is not covered by Swiss law,” he said.
But Kerstin Noelle Vkinger, a doctor, lawyer and professor at the University of Zurich, told Swiss newspaper Neue Zurcher Zeitung: “Medical devices are regulated because they are supposed to be safer than other products. Just because a product is not beneficial to health does not mean that it is not also affected by these additional safety requirements.”
And Dignitas told the BBC: “For 35 years now, through the two Swiss Exit groups and for 23 years also with Dignitas, Switzerland has the practice of professional accompanied suicide with trained staff, in co-operation with physicians.
“In the light of this established, safe and professionally conducted/supported practice, we would not imagine that a technologised capsule for a self-determined end of life will meet much acceptance or interest in Switzerland.”
If the machine gets the go-ahead for use in Switzerland, the pod will not be offered for sale in the conventional way.
Instead, the capsule’s creator Dr Philip Nitschke, said he planned to make the blueprints available so anyone could download the design. This will be made available for free.
His aim is to “de-medicalise the dying process”, he said in an interview published on the Exit International website, a voluntary assisted dying charity which he founded.
“We want to remove any kind of psychiatric review from the process and allow the individual to control the method themselves.”
He has long campaigned for the right to die, earning him the nickname “Dr Death”.
Currently there are two prototypes of the Sarco pod, with a third being printed in the Netherlands.
Dr Nitschke has previously faced criticism for the pod, with some saying that its futuristic design glamourises suicide.