May I Be of Assistance?

I learned about the Sarco yesterday, however I only skimmed part of an article that described the device and its creator. The idea made enough of an impact on me, though, that I decided to explore it in a little more depth this morning. The Sarco is a “suicide capsule” that can be produced by a 3-D printer and can be used to end one’s own life without assistance by a doctor or other helper. Described as “a capsule that could produce a rapid decrease in oxygen level, while maintaining a low CO2 level, (the conditions for a peaceful, even euphoric death),” the concept emerged in response to a request from a man in the UK who desired a technological solution to ending his life. The man suffered from Locked-In Syndrome, a disorder of the nervous system in which a person is paralyzed except for muscles controlling eye movement.

According to materials on the Exit International website (note my skepticism about the organization, below), “the Sarco aims to provide a hypoxic (low oxygen), hypocapnic (low carbon dioxide) death.” Various safeguards associated with the device (restrictions on the availability of detailed specifications of the device and other controls, etc.) are meant to ensure that the Sarco is used only by people of sound mind who are committed to ending life in a peaceful, pleasant manner, without  intervention by doctors, the state, or other “intruders” on an individual’s pursuit of a serene, dignified death. By the way, the Sarco (and, I presume, the specific design for the device) was conceived by Philip Nitschke, the founder and director of Exit International. Nitschke was formerly a medical doctor in Australia; he opted to abandon his licensure when faced with demands that he abandon his very public support of the right to die movement in order to maintain his registration.

Though I support the concept that people should have the right to decide to end their lives when living becomes an irreparably excruciating experience or when one’s quality of life has degraded completely and is beyond recovery, the Sarco  may not be “the answer.” For one thing, the cost of creating  (3-D printing) the device is high: roughly $18,000 US, according to the Exit International website. For another, people who experience irreversible pain or otherwise have powerful, defensible reasons to take their own lives may not be in a position to arrange for production of a Sarco device. And, even if they could, they may be physically unable to put the device to use without assistance. The device can be controlled only by the user, once inside the pod; but the user may require significant help getting inside. That required assistance essentially negates the claim that using the Sarco is entirely in the control of the person who wishes to die.

My issues with the Sarco device notwithstanding, I subscribe to Exit International‘s published philosophy. But for several reasons, I am skeptical of the purity of the organization’s motives. Membership in Exit International costs $100 per year or $1000 for a lifetime subscription. Access to certain “member benefits” requires payment of additional fees. For example, access to the The Peaceful Pill eHandbook – Essentials Edition costs $85 for Exit International members and is said to be “sold only to those over 50 years of age, of sound mind or who are seriously ill.” While I fully understand why an organization might charge a fee sufficient to cover necessary costs, I am highly suspicious about the level of Exit International‘s charges. And I am more than a little cautious about the organization because its website seems a bit too commercial in tone, as if its primary but unannounced objective is to maximize its profitability.

Interestingly, Exit International is not listed among the 58 member organizations of the World Federation of Right to Die Societies (WFRDS). According to WFRDS, there are 80 such organizations worldwide, so several others have opted not to belong to WFRDS; but the majority do. Hmm.

Okay, I’ve drifted a bit. My interest in the Sarco device was piqued because of my strong belief in individuals’ right to decide to die when they experience unrelieved excruciating pain or when their quality of life has declined to the point of making living an irreversible exercise in anguish. In my view, the State has no business interfering with a person’s decision—in response to such circumstances—to end his or her life. Granted, the decision is irreversible and should be taken only after intense consideration. And, granted, suicide in the absence of irreversible circumstances should be discouraged in the strongest possible ways and fiercely guarded against. But the reality is that everyone dies. At some point, when the reasonably comfortable enjoyment of life is known to be permanently impossible, the individual should have the uncontested right to decide when to end it.


They asked me what I thought about euthanasia. I said I’m more concerned about the adults.

~ Jay London ~


I realize the content of this morning’s post is not as cheery as are my usual happy thoughts, but it is a topic that should not, in my view, be addressed in hushed tones. Death, as painful as it is to loved ones of those who die, is a normal conclusion to life. I think we should talk about it more openly and without feeling that we’re entering territory that is too “morbid.” Death is a difficult subject, sometimes, but it is one that warrants conversation.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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2 Responses to May I Be of Assistance?

  1. Janet, I appreciate4 your recommendation; I will read “The Day I Die” soon. And I’m glad you share my opinions. I sometimes think people who read what I write or hear what I say think I am irrational, at best. I look forward to seeing you when you and Mike return from your time in distant places.

  2. Janet Holt says:

    John, I share your opinions. .I just finished, “The Day I Die” by Anita Hannig. and recommend it for more info

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