Fact check: 'Suicide pod' passed independent legal review, could be in use in Switzerland in 2022

If you or someone you know may be struggling with suicidal thoughts, you can call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) any time day or night, or chat online.

The claim: Switzerland is the first country to approve 'suicide chamber'

Assisted suicide is allowed under different circumstances in countries around the world and in some parts of the United States, but physicians and assistants are often required to be present to aid the process.

A country in Europe potentially is on track to allow patients to have a painless death without assistance, according to a Dec. 6 Facebook post.

"Switzerland becomes first country to approve the 'suicide chamber'; a 3D printed pod that allows patients to kill themselves pain-free at the press of a button," reads text in an image that accrued almost 400 shares and 1,200 likes in one week.

The post includes a photo of a futuristic-looking, coffin-shaped red and black pod.

The image shared on Facebook is a screenshot of a post from the account "Yup That Exists," whose Dec. 7 Facebook post gathered over 5,000 interactions within one day before it was deleted.

Special access for subscribers! Click here to sign up for our fact-check text chat

The machine exists. It's a device that could play a role in assisted suicides in Switzerland, where the pod recently passed an independent legal review asserting it complies with Swiss law. But the Swiss government was not involved in the review and has not approved use of the device.

USA TODAY reached out to the Facebook user who posted the image and the group who originally made the post for comment.

No legal problems with invention, independent review concluded

The claim that the device was approved by Switzerland appears to stem from a Dec. 6 article featuring an interview of the pod's creator, Philip Nitschke, by local news outlet Swiss Info.

According to an archived version of the article, the original headline read: "Sarco suicide capsule 'passes legal review' in Switzerland." The article didn't say it had been approved by the government.

Fact check: Posts satirize euthanasia law, saying Hawaii bought ‘passing assistance pods’

The device hasn't received government approval, Nitschke confirmed to USA TODAY in an email.

Nitschke said the company sought an independent law review from a consultant to "ensure we were on safe legal ground by not seeking a formal review of the device." He said the review concluded Exit International – the company manufacturing the pod – did not require formal approval from the government.

Swiss Medic, the national agency in charge of authorizing medical products and drugs in Switzerland, told USA TODAY in an email it did not approve the device.

"We have never heard of this capsule before information was published in the media," said spokesperson Alex Josty. The country's Federal Council did not respond to requests for comment from USA TODAY.

When, how will it be available?

The current version of the pod, called "The Sarco," was revealed during the annual design exhibition Venice Design in 2019, according to Exit International.

But it has been in the making for a few years, as Nitschke has been talking about its development since as early as 2017.

Before the final product is made available for its planned release in 2022, the company has to develop a camera that would allow the someone using it to communicate with people outside, as "there needs to be a recording of the person's informed consent," Nitschke said.

Fact check: False claim that lid was on Boris Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine

In Switzerland, a person can suffer a monetary penalty or be sentenced to up to five years in prison if they incite or assist another person to commit suicide for "selfish motives," according to Article 115 of the country's criminal code.

But assisted suicide is allowed, and there are several organizations that help people organize it. Dignitas, a nonprofit that helps in the process, said that once the patient has met the criteria and has a Swiss doctor's prescription for the lethal medication, it can procure the prescription and assist throughout the process.

However, the person must be of "sound judgment" and have the physical ability to take the drug by themselves without assistance. To obtain the help of a Swiss doctor, a person must be terminally ill, have an "unendurable incapacitating disability," or have "unbearable and uncontrollable pain," according to Dignitas.

Our rating: False

Based on our research, we rate FALSE the claim that Switzerland is the first country to approve a "suicide chamber." The device was not approved by the Swiss government, and its creator told USA TODAY he didn't seek such approval. An independent legal review concluded that the device could be operated legally in Switzerland.

Our fact-check sources:

Thank you for supporting our journalism. You can subscribe to our print edition, ad-free app or electronic newspaper replica here.

Our fact-check work is supported in part by a grant from Facebook.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Assisted suicide pod not approved by Swiss government