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New Suicide Machine Being Made, Euthanasia Group Told

January 13, 2003|From Associated Press

SAN DIEGO — It's inexpensive, easy to use, portable and efficient. It's also deadly.

A device an Australian doctor says enables people to kill themselves quickly and painlessly is on track for development even though the prototype has been confiscated.

At a conference on euthanasia Sunday, Dr. Philip Nitschke said he and U.S. supporters intend to build another suicide machine in the United States to replace one seized by Australian customs agents last week.

Nitschke, 55, said customs officers in Sydney confiscated his COGen machine, which allows users to inhale pure carbon monoxide, as he prepared to leave for San Diego to unveil the device at a Hemlock Society meeting.

Australian authorities cited new legislation banning the exportation of any device that can be used to assist in suicide.

The COGen machine consists of a coffee-can-sized canister, an intravenous drip bag and nasal prongs. Chemicals are combined in the canister to produce carbon monoxide to be inhaled.

It has not been tested on anyone, but Nitschke estimated it would render a person unconscious within minutes and cause death in 30 minutes to an hour.

The California Life Coalition called his invention "ghoulish." "Instead of helping people overcome their problems, he can only help to murder them," coalition director Cheryl Sullenger said in a statement.

Nitschke said the device costs about $100 a unit to produce. He hoped to make it available free to members of organizations such as Exit, the Australian euthanasia group he helped found. The machine differs from a carbon monoxide device used by Dr. Jack Kevorkian, the American euthanasia advocate who is serving a 10- to 25-year prison sentence for the 1998 injection death of Thomas Youk, who had Lou Gehrig's disease.

Nitschke said Kevorkian's "Mercitron" used cylinders of compressed carbon monoxide, which is hard to obtain and transport, while his machine produces the toxic gas itself.

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