The company behind a 3D-printed pod which can help carry out assisted suicide expects it could be used early next year.
It’s not easy to imagine how it would feel when a family member, friend or relative committed suicide. Although many would think the act is a rare occurrence, evidence suggests otherwise.
According to a recent report on suicide rates across the world, 800,000 people globally are taking their lives each year - or one person every 40 seconds. Many people make the decision shortly before committing the act rather than planning it in a detailed way.
However, some countries in the world such as Switzerland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Canada and Colombia allow assisted suicide, with each of them having different rules to conduct the process. All require people to have solid reasons like incurable or terminal conditions that can't be remedied and cause immense suffering.
Most recently, in Switzerland, the use of 3D-printed "suicide capsules" has passed a legal review and can now move forward.
Also known as the Sarco-capsule, the coffin-like device will be ready for operation in Switzerland by 2022, said Dr. Philip Nitschke, who is behind the prototype and based in the Netherlands.
As per the rules determined by the Swiss assisted-dying sector, it requires the ingestion of liquid sodium pentobarbital, which is normally used as an anesthetic and sedative, so the Sarco-capsule can provide a peaceful death without using controlled substances.
"The benefit for the person who uses it is that they don't have to get any permission, they don't need some special doctor to try and get a needle in, and they don't need to get difficult drugs to obtain," Nitschke said during a Sarco demonstration last year.
Around 1,300 people died by assisted suicide in Switzerland last year, according to Exit International, a voluntary assisted dying charity founded by Dr. Nitschke.
How does it work?
Explaining the features of the capsule, Dr. Nitschke said it “is activated from the inside and can be towed to a location that the person wishes to die in, such as an outdoor setting or the premises of an assisted-suicide organization.”
“Once activated, the capsule floods its interior with nitrogen and rapidly reduces oxygen, causing the person to lose consciousness and, ultimately, die without choking or panicking,” the doctor said.
According to UK-based charity Samaritans, which aims to reduce suicides and help people to get rid of suicidal ideation, feeling actively suicidal is temporary, even if someone has been feeling low, anxious or struggling to cope for a long period of time.
According to research conducted by Samaritans, 1 in 5 people have thought about suicide at some time in their life and not all people who die by suicide have mental health problems.
“Many people who kill themselves do suffer with their mental health, typically to a serious degree. Sometimes it’s known about before the person’s death and sometimes not,” the charity says.
“The majority of people who feel suicidal do not actually want to die; they do not want to live the life they have. The distinction may seem small but is very important. It's why talking through other options at the right time is so vital.”
According to a report published by The Guardian, Switzerland has no laws prohibiting the practice and only considers it an offense to assist a suicide if done with selfish motives.
The same report also stated that assisted suicide is more widely available than euthanasia. Apart from Switzerland, a number of US states including California, Colorado, Hawaii, New Jersey, Oregon, Washington state, Vermont and the District of Columbia also allow for assisted suicide.
In the Netherlands, euthanasia can be requested by anyone 12 years and older who has "unbearable suffering with no prospect of improvement," but parental consent is a must if a child is under 16.
The “vast majority” of euthanasia cases in the Netherlands concerned elderly people who were suffering from a serious illness, such as cancer, according to Jeroen Recourt, the chair of the Regional Euthanasia Review Committees.
In 2020 alone, euthanasia in the Netherlands peaked with 6,938 procedures performed, an increase of 9 percent compared to the previous year.
"More and more generations see euthanasia as a solution for unbearable suffering," Recourt said. "But the thought that euthanasia is an option in the case of hopeless suffering is very reassuring."