Wonderful Things: Euthanasia Machine

Choosing to Die, a recent BBC documentary by author Terry Pratchett, attempted to open discussion about the subject of assisted suicide or voluntary euthanasia (euthanasia conducted with the patients consent).

The euthanasia machine in the museum’s Wellcome Wing can do the same. 

This euthanasia machine helped 4 people end their lives

This euthanasia machine helped 4 people end their lives. Image SSPL

Used for a brief time in 1996, when Australia’s Northern territory, in accordance with state law, allowed patients to take their own lives, this machine helped four people to die. The word ‘euthanasia’ is based on a Greek word meaning ‘good death’.

Created by Dr Philip Nitschke, a campaigner who pushed for the Australian legislation, consists of a laptop, a ‘Deliverance’ programme which controls the machine and a syringe. Using the keyboard, the patient operates the computer and answers a series of questions concluding with “if you press this button, you will receive a lethal injection and die in 15 seconds – do you wish to proceed?”  If patients answered yes, the machine administered a lethal injection of barbiturates. On 22nd September 1996, Bob Dent, a terminally ill prostate cancer patient, became the first person to take advantage of the legislation and receive this lethal injection.

Discussions around the subject of euthanasia have been, and will continue to be, an area of intense and emotional debate. Some argue that the process is illegal or morally wrong, posing a potential threat to patients pressured into taking their own lives. Others consider the choice to be a right for patients; that individuals should be offered the choice to die with dignity and not suffer the pain of a terminal illness.

Many scientific developments can have polarising effects as they generate fierce debate around their ethics, social and financial repercussions. Whatever happens, science will continue to support patients and provide as many options as possible.

Find out what your students think about this technology.

How do they feel about the fact it has actually been used?

Where do they stand in the euthanasia debate? Try out the human barometer before and after a discussion to gauge their response.

The Euthanasia Machine can be seen in the Wellcome Wing, Ground Floor.

-Christopher Whitby

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