Open source suicide: This 3D-printable ‘death pod’ provides painless euthanasia

Death isn’t a subject we talk about too often in tech. It’s a world where CEOs are already onto their second startup at age 21, billionaires are minted at 30, and people plan to retire long before their bodies start physically failing them. Even when we do discuss old age, it’s more likely to be in the context of ways to extend life — or cheat death altogether by uploading the mind into a machine.

Dr. Philip Nitschke is concerned about a different aspect, though. He is one of the most outspoken proponents of euthanasia, referring to deliberate intervention taken by a person to end his or her life to relieve suffering. And as the founder and director of the pro-euthanasia group Exit International, he is using tech to help his cause. Working alongside Netherlands engineer Alexander Bannick, Nitschke developed a 3D-printed euthanasia machine called Sarco which, he claims, could serve a valuable social purpose.

“The Sarco has been developed specifically to provide a peaceful and reliable death for a rational adult without the need for specific medical or technical assistance,” Nitschke told Digital Trends. “This is important as, while suicide is legal in many jurisdictions, assisting a suicide is a serious crime. With Sarco, no assistance is required.”

Prior to using the machine, users would have to complete an online questionnaire in order to establish their mental competency. After this, they receive a four-digit access code which opens the device. In the chamber, they can start it using voice recognition, the press of a button, or even a series of blinks for paralyzed individuals. Liquid nitrogen is then used to trigger a drop in oxygen, which Bannick says is a “common method used by those seeking a peaceful elective death.” The capsule, which attaches from its base, can be used as a coffin.

“We [currently] have an accurate 1:7 model 3D printed for our launch in Toronto in October at the Exit NuTech ‘New Technologies for a Peaceful Death’ conference,” Nitschke continued. “The next step is a 1:1 working model as a display, and also to test programming for the 3D-printed version. On completion and testing, it will be made open-source. Exit International has no interest in financial gain from the development, and sale of such a device would lead to inevitable criticism for profiteering over death. The only cost will be in the printing, and the sourcing of the [liquid nitrogen.]”

There will no doubt be plenty of controversy about the creation of Sarco, just as there is around the wider topic of euthanasia. But it’s definitely an example of open-source 3D-printing models we’ve not considered before.