From Switzerland comes word of a creation that uses technology to create not a utopia but a dystopia. Philip Nitschke recently announced he had invented the Sarco, a chamber or “suicide pod” that allows individuals to end their lives. Tragically this “invention” represents the latest example of modern society devaluing life, particularly for the world’s most vulnerable.
This method of euthanasia appears especially pernicious for several reasons. First, the high-tech appearance of the Sarco glamorizes death — one of the goals of its creator. Nitschke called the chamber “stylish and elegant,” saying “it provides that sense of occasion by its look. It looks good, and it’s a thing that I would like to get into.” Rhetoric like that provides a horrifyingly wrong message, encouraging people to commit suicide to “be fashionable” and trendy.
Second, Sarco’s design takes the machine out of the realm of medical professionals. Unlike most other forms of assisted suicide, the Sarco does not deliver a fatal dose of narcotics prescribed by a doctor. Instead, the device slowly replaces the oxygen inside the pod with nitrogen, causing the individual inside to die from lack of oxygen.
By eliminating the involvement of medical professionals, the Sarco also eliminates a significant safeguard intended to protect people not of sound mind from taking their own life. In theory, anyone who can answer the questions the machine poses can end his life. That includes children, vulnerable persons, and mentally incompetent individuals — even people tricked into entering the chamber.
Finally, Nitschke said he plans to post 3-D printing instructions for this literal “death trap” online, allowing anyone to create an instrument of their own demise. The combination of online instructions and lack of medical supervision could allow individuals suffering a brief bout of depression to embrace a permanent and deadly “solution” to temporary suffering. Rather than taking the means of suicide out of people’s hands — as in the ongoing project to install netting on the Golden Gate Bridge — Nitchske would make it easier for individuals to make a rash and fatal choice.
‘Serious Safety Concerns’
For all these reasons, even supporters of assisted suicide have criticized Nitchske’s creation as “appalling.” Disability advocate and euthanasia supporter Stephen Duckworth recently noted that “safety should always be at the forefront of any efforts to enable greater choice at the end of life, and there are serious safety concerns here.” The phenomenon of suicide contagion — when one suicide prompts others in the community to contemplate taking their own life — afflicting many young people and college communities provides but one example of how the Sarco could encourage rather than discourage self-harm.
The Sarco also illustrates the broader trend of a culture that devalues human life for young and old alike. Witness abortion rights protestors recently taking abortion pills in public on the steps of the Supreme Court as it heard a challenge to Roe v. Wade. The stunt cheapened the act of taking an unborn child’s life, turning the tragic decision women make every day into mere performance art for the public to watch.
My youngest daughter has cystic fibrosis and underwent several surgeries right after her birth. Her struggles have reinforced my belief in the value of human life for all of God’s creatures, not just some of them. It pains me to hear of inventions like the Sarco, which will only encourage people that society considers “unhealthy” or “not perfect” to end their lives prematurely.
Nitschke said that he wants death not to “be shrouded by misery and gloom,” but instead provide a “celebration.” But I celebrate every moment of every life, from conception to natural death, including — especially — for the most vulnerable. For that reason, the Sarco makes me not celebrate, but grieve.