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No, Switzerland has not approved a ‘suicide capsule’

December 9, 2021 GMT

CLAIM: Swiss regulatory agencies have formally approved the Sarco capsule, a mobile, 3D-printed chamber for carrying out assisted suicide.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. The device — which is still a prototype — has not been approved for use by any Swiss agencies. The machine’s creator says he did not seek such approval because he believes his organization does not need it under current legal guidelines. SwissMedic, the national authorization agency for drugs and medical products, said it had not heard of the capsule until it gained widespread media attention recently.

THE FACTS: A story about a first-of-its-kind device designed as a vehicle for assisted suicide led to a flurry of false information about the machine. The article that inspired much of the coverage used language in its headline that many people incorrectly interpreted to mean the device has been authorized in Switzerland, when it has not.

Creator Philip Nitschke says the Sarco capsule is a 3D-printed pod that, when activated by the user, becomes flooded with nitrogen until it fatally reduces the oxygen levels inside. There are currently two prototypes of the product, which are not being offered for sale or use. It has not yet been tested, though Nitschke has said a third prototype could be operational in early 2022.

SwissInfo, a division of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, published a Q&A with Nitschke on Monday with the headline: “Sarco suicide capsule ‘passes legal review’ in Switzerland.” It was revised Wednesday to say: “Sarco suicide capsule hopes to enter Switzerland,” alongside a corrective editor’s note explaining the change and other edits.

But the correction came after the information was picked up by numerous media outlets that used language similar to the original headline. In some cases, stories and social media posts went even further, saying the device had passed formal regulatory approval in Switzerland, and was approved by medical or legal agencies.

“Switzerland Approves Assisted ‘Suicide Capsule,’” read a headline in The Daily Beast. A tweet by The Indian Express sharing its article stated: “#Switzerland medical review board has legalised portable suicide capsules that can be created with a 3D printer for those wanting to end their life.”

The misleading headlines were picked up on social media, where a page called “Yup That Exists” shared the claim, writing: “Switzerland becomes first country to approve the ‘suicide chamber.’” Some social media users believed the pod was set to be rolled out for large scale use in the country. But this is not the case.

Assisted suicide is allowed in Switzerland under certain conditions.

SwissMedic, the government agency in charge of regulating medical products, confirmed to the AP that it had not approved the Sarco capsule.

Nitschke told the AP that his nonprofit, Exit International, never pursued approval because it obtained outside legal opinion from a consultant — a former chair of Infrastructure Law and New Technologies at Germany’s Freiberg University of Mining and Technology — who determined it did not need formal authorization or licensing to use the device.

EXIT, an established organization currently offering assisted dying services in Switzerland, says it has questions about Sarco and the legal opinion obtained by Exit International, which is unaffiliated with their group.

“It is unclear what the exact content of the legal opinion for legalization is,” EXIT Vice President Jürg Wiler wrote in an email, adding: “And how about testing the capsule? EXIT does not see ‘Sarco’ as an alternative to the physician-assisted suicides that EXIT carries out in Switzerland.”

Nitschke said that while there may be dissenting legal opinions, a final decision may only be reached if someone were to bring a case to court after the machine has been used.

Associated Press reporter Jamey Keaten in Geneva contributed to this report.

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This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.