Today’s Barbarians Beguile People So That They May Kill Them

How does one describe such a culture of death? It’s a puzzlement.

Dutch designer Alexander Bannink explains how the Sarco euthanasia machine works as a man experiences sitting in the device by wearing virtual reality glasses, on April 14, 2018, at the Amsterdam Funeral Expo.
Dutch designer Alexander Bannink explains how the Sarco euthanasia machine works as a man experiences sitting in the device by wearing virtual reality glasses, on April 14, 2018, at the Amsterdam Funeral Expo. (photo: Jasper Juinen / AFP via Getty Images)

When the trains bringing people to Auschwitz for killing pulled into the station, there was often a small orchestra playing on the platform. The Germans wanted people to see how “civilized” they were. Music also tended to calm people and allay their suspicions.

Music seems also apropos to the Western drive toward euthanasia. A particularly apt piece comes from musical The King and I. The King sings about puzzlements.

Australian euthanasia advocate Philip Nitschke has invented “Sarco,” a futuristic “pod” that resembles a cockpit, designed to allow somebody who wants to kill himself to so all by himself, without anybody else’s “assistance.” The person gets in, provides voice commands and acknowledgement of disclaimers, and then the machine seals, pumps oxygen out and nitrogen in, suffocating the person.

Nitschke says self-killing is a basic human right, and almost all of the people The New York Times or the UK’s Independent quote when discussing the Australian’s euthanasia advocacy agree. So why do both articles end with a block telling you how to reach a suicide prevention center if you’re having thoughts about killing yourself? It’s a puzzlement.

Nitschke wants to market his Sarco by providing plans that can produce it through 3D printers. That could circumvent restrictions on euthanasia. Will social media ban access to Nitschke’s product, or is that only for political views social media doesn’t like? It’s a puzzlement.

Sarco is supposed to take causing death out of the hands of physicians. Back when states began to use lethal injections as means of capital punishment, doctors bowed out, insisting their profession was one of healing, not killing. Pharmaceutical companies refused to sell states drugs for those lethal cocktails. But when other doctors want out of killing suicidal patients, they’re sometimes forced into complicity by referrals, at least, because killing in that case is called “medical care.” So which is it? It’s a puzzlement.

Some euthanasia advocates oppose Sarco because they see it as too individualistic — a death alone, devoid of “human warmth.” You should have your nonjudgmental loved ones and friends around to bid you adieu as you shuffle off this mortal coil. (Also helps build up social consensus for more killing). But don’t expect the death professionals of Germany’s Verein Sterbehilfe, the country’s euthanasia group, to come automatically. They aren’t willing to warm your cockles until you show your proof of vaccination, not wanting to go where you have not gone before. It’s a puzzlement. 

Many suicide attempts fail. According to 2019 CDC data, 1.4 million attempted suicide in the U.S. and 47,500 succeeded. Does Sarco up the “success” rate? Is Nitschke’s latest idea — an implantable, future release device that will kill you unless you turn it off — another effort to ensure “successful” outcomes? It’s a puzzlement.

Suicide is a growing national plague. How does a society combat suicide, especially among the young, while declaring it a “right” or at least some form of “medical service?” It’s a puzzlement.

So, is suicide “crisis” or a “right?” It’s a puzzlement.

I was most struck by the Times’ story about Sarco. It is framed by a large color picture of seven people circling the pod, as if they were looking over this year’s new car model. One looks at it as if thinking, “nice, but I can I get it in red?” Another takes a photo with his iPhone, as if he’s going to take it home. (“Honey, take a look at this. Should we get his and hers?”) One man, with his arms folded, seems in thought. (“Should I put it in the garage or the bedroom?”) Two folks stand in the corner with champagne flutes, as if they were discussing some deep technical problem. (“I have always had some doubts about the oxygen/nitrogen mix, Guenther!”) Nobody’s reaction in the picture suggests they see the scene as obscene.

Not to be outdone, the Independent covered the story about a possible suicide implant in its “Lifestyle/Tech” section.

Readers know that I have been very favorable to a term coined by contemporary Polish philosopher Zbigniew Stawrowski in his book, Clash of Civilizations. Stawrowski speaks of “sleek barbarians.” When we think of the Germanic hordes descending on Rome, we imagine people wielding clubs and clad in animal skins.

Today’s barbarians are so much more chic. They wield clipboards and legal briefs, and are clad only in the most finely tailored suits with matching shirts and accessories. Sometimes they even wear medical coats. They speak in hushes rather than shouts. 

But they’re barbarians just the same. 

How else does one describe the Museum for Sepuchral Culture in Kassel, Germany, which has a “suicide exhibit” now featuring its own Sarco?

How does one describe a culture that thinks these are legitimate questions for debate over chardonnay and salad (along with the current price of fetal body parts?) The title of the Kassel suicide exhibit is “Suicide — Let’s Talk About It.” 

If we’re looking for the proper orchestration to accompany the denouement of Western culture into a culture of death, it’s not Hitler’s preferred Wagnerian Götterdämmerung. Cornwallis played it at the Battle of Yorktown, ending the American Revolution. It’s The World Turned Upside Down.

I wonder which one is piped into Sarco along with the gas?