Doctor Death

Doctor Death

How an Australian came up with the idea of a suicide capsule

Philip Nitschke, who says he has watched more than 200 people die, says he rarely thinks about his own death.

When asked what a last day should be like, he thinks long and hard. In the best case scenario, Nitschke says, he would be sitting on a hill in the Australian outback with a bottle of beer, his last meal would be Thai food.

He would watch the sunset, and when it was time, he would climb into the capsule. Then he would press the button, and after a few minutes it would be over. “Beautiful, isn’t it?” says Nitschke. 

Nitschke, 74, a man with a soothing voice, is a former doctor who sicb for the right to euthanasia. The British newspaper The Independent once called him “Dr. Death.”

He describes himself as a humanist and inventor. You can talk to Nitschke on the phone and he will tell you about his latest invention, the “Sarco”.

The Sarco is a suicide capsule. It looks like the cockpit of a Tesla, and its sole purpose is to kill the occupant. 

The Sarco consists of two parts: a generator as a base and an attachment in which the suicidal person sits down. The interior looks cozy, there are soft cushions and a touch screen in it.

When someone sits down in the cockpit, three questions appear on the screen: Who are you? Where are you? Do you know what happens when you press the button?

If the person answers the first two questions correctly and the third one in the affirmative, they can driick on another button. Then the capsule closes, like a jet before takeoff. 

Death occurs by hypoxia. The generator produces nitrogen, the nitrogen displaces the oxygen in the capsule, and after 30 seconds you lose consciousness. After five minutes at the latest, you are dead.  “No yuk” factor, Nitschke says.

Nitschke comes from Ardrossan, a town of 1,000 people in southern Australia.

Like many young men, he spent several years searching for meaning in his life, he says. Before Nitschke turned to death, he was a cab driver and a ranger in a national park.

At that time, he was not yet campaigning for euthanasia, but for the rights of the Australian aborigines. Nitschke says his time with the Aborigines awakened his need for freedom. 

His commitment to assisted suicide began after medical school, and Nitschke worked as a general practitioner. He says he was surprised by how many of his patients expressed a wish to die.

Terminally ill patients, but also healthy ones. Nitschke doesn’t want to go into too much detail. He says he “helped” some of them.

In Australia, euthanasia is prohibited. The authorities revoked Nitschke’s license to practice medicine in 2014 [Editor’s note – an act which the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory would later find to be unlawful and would immediately reverse], and he and his wife moved to the Netherlands, where assisted suicide is legal under strict conditions.

He became a full-time activist and wrote a book called “Peaceful Pill Handbook.” It explains many ways to kill yourself, from pill overdoses to carbon monoxide poisoning to pulling a plastic bag over your head.

When you talk to Nitschke, he seems less like a freedom fighter and more like someone who wants to be a visionary. Someone with a groundbreaking !idea, like Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos.

The inventors of Tesla and Amazon like to portray themselves as humanitarians, as philanthropists, like Nitschke. They promise to make the world a little easier and better. But most of the time, you get the impression that they’re more concerned with themselves.

That they really only want to fly into space with their rockets to make their mark in the history books.

Nitschke has many opponents; he is very controversial even among death activists. Some accuse him of aestheticizing death with the futuristic design of the Sarco.

Others say that if suicide were to become legal, it should take place with professional assistance and not in isolation in a plastic capsule from a 3-D printer. Nitschke is convinced of himself and of Sarco.

Listening to him, you sometimes think he hasn’t invented a suicide machine, but his own little rocket. Just like Musk and Bezos. 

Nitschke says he didn’t invent the Sarco to make money with it. He is concerned with his idea. He hopes for the liberalization of euthanasia in Europe, especially in Germany. The Sarco is not yet approved anywhere in the world.

But in 2020, the Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe annulled an article in the Criminal Code that criminalized “businesslike promotion of the suicide of others.” The Bundestag must now find a new regulation. That gives Nitschke hope.