Tag Archives: switzerland

Assisted suicide 3D-printed pod deemed legal in Switzerland

The 3-D printed Sarco. Credit: Exit International.

It looks like a prop for a SciFi movie (Alien‘s cryosleep chambers come to mind), but this 3D-printed capsule is meant for very worldly, some would say sinister, matters. For most people that climb inside, it will be the last thing they’ll see.

Called the ‘Sarco’ machine, this high-tech death chamber is destined for use in assisted suicide. Once inside, the person seeking to end their suffering may press a button that activates a mechanism that floods the capsule with nitrogen. In under a minute, the oxygen level drops to 1% from 21%.

Death is painless due to oxygen and carbon dioxide deprivation. The patient first goes unconscious, with death following 5-10 minutes later. There is no choking feeling or panic, according to Dr. Philip Nitschke, Sarco’s inventor and the founder of Australia-registered Exit International, a non-profit that “provide information and guidance on assisted suicide and end of life matters.”

“The person will get into the capsule and lie down.  It’s very comfortable. They will be asked a number of questions and when they have answered, they may press the button inside the capsule activating the mechanism in their own time,” Nitschke told SwissInfo in an interview.

According to Gizmodo, Sarco has recently received legal approval from Swiss authorities and could perform the first assisted suicides as early as 2022.

Switzerland is one of the few countries in the world where assisted suicides and euthanasia are legal. In 2020 alone, some 1,300 people died by assisted suicide in the country. Elsewhere, in the Netherlands, a staggering 6,585 cases of voluntary euthanasia or assisted suicide were undertaken in 2017, representing 4.4% of the total number of deaths in that year. Other countries where assisted suicide is legally allowed include Colombia, Belgium, Canada, Luxembourg, and some US states like California, Colorado, and Hawaii, although each region has different requirements.

Assisted suicide refers to helping someone to take their own life at their request but the final deed is undertaken by the person seeking suicide themselves. Euthanasia is also a form of assisted suicide, with the notable difference that it is undertaken by someone else, usually a doctor. Passive euthanasia refers to the withdrawal of life support and life-sustaining treatment.

In order for a person to be allowed to perform such a procedure, the patient has to be terminally ill, in great suffering, with no other forms of significant treatment available.

Typically, assisted suicides are performed by ingesting liquid sodium pentobarbital, a lethal drug that causes the patient to enter a coma within five minutes, followed soon by death.

Sarco also offers a peaceful death, just way more high-tech. The coffin-like capsule is designed with comfort in mind and since it doesn’t involve any dangerous controlled substances, it will be easier for someone seeking assisted suicide to actually use it. Assisted suicides are required to document consent every step of the way, which is why Sarco has built-in cameras and communication hardware.

Nitschke would like to streamline the process even further, if possible, by using artificial intelligence in lieu of human psychiatrists.

” Currently a doctor or doctors need to be involved to prescribe the sodium pentobarbital and to confirm the person’s mental capacity. We want to remove any kind of psychiatric review from the process and allow the individual to control the method themselves,” he told SwissInfo.

“Our aim is to develop an artificial intelligence screening system to establish the person’s mental capacity. Naturally, there is a lot of skepticism, especially on the part of psychiatrists. But our original conceptual idea is that the person would do an online test and receive a code to access the Sarco.”

A Sarco prototype is currently on display at art and design events across Europe. Credit: Exit International.

There are two prototypes built so far, with a third undergoing printing in the Netherlands. No person has used a Sarco yet, but that may change very soon now that the developers have received the go-ahead.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HUp6aowxPTE

Both euthanasia and assisted suicide have proven extremely controversial among both doctors and the general public. Doctors have to swear an oath to “do no harm”, and some believe these practices go blatantly against this fundamental principle. Other critics are less obtuse and believe that easily accessible assisted suicide may make some patients make rash decisions.

More liberal doctors believe that every person should have autonomy in when to die. Many terminally ill patients are so weak they can’t move a finger but are nevertheless in a great deal of suffering. Other patients are literally paralyzed, suffering from multiple conditions, and are in great emotional and mental distress. When discussing the fate of a patient with end-stage cancer and severe unbearable suffering, it is challenging to raise the issue of ‘harming’ the patient in this situation.

Assisted suicides and legal euthanasia will likely remain a point of contention for years to come. In the meantime, Sarco will have time to prove that it’s not just some fancy high-tech coffin but rather a modern vehicle for voluntarily ending unbearable suffering.

Swiss voters say ‘no’ to carbon tax hike and further climate change measures

Switzerland’s strategy to meet its climate targets hit a major roadblock last Sunday, as the majority of voters rejected a law aimed at further reducing the country’s greenhouse gases. The CO2 Law, rejected by 51.6% of the voters of a national referendum, would have enacted new taxes on CO2-generating fuel and natural gas, as well as on airline tickets.

Image credit: Flickr / Joan Julbe.

The small land-locked country was the first in the world to submit its formal climate plan for cutting emissions to the United Nations, months before the Paris Agreement was adopted. Under its plan, Switzerland pledged to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 50% below 1990 levels by 2030 and by 70-85% by 2050. 

To meet that target, the government introduced a key piece of climate change legislation, the CO2 Act. A draft was first approved by the lower and upper houses of parliament and now had to be summited to a public referendum. The law envisioned various measures, targeting road vehicles, air traffic, industries and buildings. 

Now, without the climate legislation, “it will be difficult to achieve the country’s climate targets,” Switzerland’s Environment Minister Simonetta Sommaruga said, speaking with reporters. The Green Party, the main supporter of the new climate rules, said in a statement that “the oil and gas companies and their lobby have won.”

One of the main policies included in the bill was a more significant carbon levy on fossil fuels. Switzerland already has one of the highest prices on carbon in the world at $106 per ton of CO2-equivalent. The CO2 Act would have further increased the levy to $231 per ton. The transportation sector is currently responsible for almost a third of the country’s total climate emissions. 

Initial opinion polls suggested the CO2 law had strong popular support of about 60%, but the “no” vote gained significant ground in the final weeks before the referendum. Urban cantons including Basel, Zurich and Geneva voted in favor of the bill. But that wasn’t sufficient, as 21 of the 26 Swiss cantons ended up saying no to the climate legislation.

Those campaigning against the climate policy mainly put forward financial arguments, claiming the law would have resulted in a “massive additional financial burden for the population” and “immense increase in bureaucracy.” They also said the proposal was ineffective as Switzerland’s emissions only amount to 0.1% of the global tally. 

The outcome represents a major upset for a country that is disproportionately affected by climate change. Since the beginning of records in 1864, the average temperature in the country has climbed by 1.9°C. In the past 30 years, Switzerland has experienced a concerning acceleration in its rate of warming.

Thomas Schlegel, a climatologist with MeteoSwiss, Switzerland’s meteorological office, told SwissInfo, that this is due to the country’s continental climate, with no sea around it to slow down the build-up of heat. What’s more, due to its latitude the country is affected by a physical phenomenon by which areas closer to the North Pole are heating up more than areas towards the equator.

Alongside the climate bill, Swiss voters also had to vote on a proposal to outlaw artificial pesticides and to improve drinking water by giving subsidies only to farmers who eschew chemicals. Both were voted down by 61%. Supporters had pointed to worrying levels of pesticides in water, but farmers warned the proposals would put them out of business. 

Coronavirus woes: Hokkaido declares state of emergency, Switzerland bans large-scale events

The Japanese island of Hokkaido, home to over 5 million people, has officially declared a state of emergency over the coronavirus outbreak. Two days ago, the mayor of San Francisco took a similar measure.

Meanwhile, Switzerland has taken the extraordinary measure of banning meetings and events involving more than 1,000 people.

At least 66 infections have been confirmed in Hokkaido, while Japan reports over 900 domestic cases (most of them linked to the Diamond Princess, a cruise ship quarantined near Tokyo).

Japan has already undertaken major efforts to contain the outbreak. Schools have been closed down until late March, affecting 13 million students.

“The situation has become more serious. I’d like people to refrain from going outside over the weekend to protect your life and health,” Hokkaido Gov. Naomichi Suzuki said during a local task force meeting.

These decisions, while severe, are in line with what the World Health Organization (WHO) officials are saying. The outbreak has reached a “decisive point”, says WHO head Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus, who added that the global outbreak has “pandemic potential”.

However, while Japan seems determined to take drastic measures, some local residents and mayors have complained that such measures are unjustified, Kyodo News reports.

“There are many small- and medium-sized businesses in the countryside. Parents taking leave or reducing working hours would have a major impact on such businesses,” said the mayor of Kanazawa, a city in central Japan.

Education minister Koichi Hagiuda has made it so that school principals can keep schools open if they so desire, but emphasized the importance of shutting down activities that can spread the virus — and schools are a prime example.

“We ask for the cooperation of relevant ministries and agencies so that students will stay home in principle and not go outside unless it’s necessary,” said Hagiuda.

“Experts have been saying schools have a high risk of group infection,” he said in defending the government request. 

Meanwhile, Switzerland, who saw its number of COVID-19 cases jump from 2 to 8 yesterday, took another stern measure, banning all large-scale meetings.

“An extraordinary meeting of the Federal Council was held today, 28 February,” a press release read. “In view of the current situation and the spread of the coronavirus, the Federal Council has categorised the situation in Switzerland as ‘special’ in terms of the Epidemics Act. Large-scale events involving more than 1000 people are to be banned. The ban comes into immediate effect and will apply at least until 15 March.”

The announcement added that the Swiss Federal Council is “aware that this measure will have a significant impact on public life in Switzerland”, but it emphasizes effective protection from the virus.

Meanwhile, California’s governor Gavin Newson refused to declare a state-wide emergency, although the city of San Francisco and Orange County have declared local emergencies.

Coffee not essential for life, Switzerland decides

Switzerland has just made a jaw-dropping announcement: it no longer considers coffee essential for life. For the first time since WWII, it will stop stockpiling it.

The decision was made as part of a periodic reassessment of which vital goods to stockpile for emergency situations such as wars and national disaster — and must have generated quite a few nervous twitches.

“The National Economic Supply has checked the maintenance of today’s compulsory storage of coffee,” a statement explains.

“Coffee is not vital according to the criteria that apply today. That is, coffee contains almost no calories and therefore does not make any contribution to food security from a nutritional point of view.”

Switzerland takes its national emergencies very seriously. Military conscription is mandatory for all able-bodied male citizens, and the country has a continuous stockpile of emergency foods — a club into which, it seems, coffee is not invited anymore.

There are currently 15,300 tonnes of stockpiled coffee in Switzerland, with the stock being maintained by 15 companies, including Nestle. Switzerland’s 8.5 million residents consume around 9kg (20lb) of coffee per person annually —  doubling the average US consumption of 4.5 kg per capita. This means that at current consumption rates, the stock would last for about six months.

It’s a significant cost to purchase and maintain the coffee stock and, indeed, while research suggests some benefits to drinking coffee, it’s hardly an essential substance for life — despite what your caffeine-oholic friends might claim. In that sense, the decision makes perfect sense.

“The department notes that coffee contains virtually no energy,” an explanatory report on the decision states, indicating that there are no macronutrients such as proteins, fats, and digestible carbohydrates in coffee.

However, it still made a lot of people angry, including officials from Réservesuisse, the Bern-based organisation that oversees Switzerland’s food stockpiles.

Réservesuisse asked the Federal Office to reconsider its recommendation, and an official decision will be made in November.

Even if the coffee stockpiling is stopped, there’s still good news for Swiss coffee drinkers. The country finances its coffee stockpile through a coffee tax — which would be eliminated if the stockpiling is stopped. In other words, coffee will get cheaper if it stops being stockpiled.

Lower bovine jaw.

Neolithic cattle farmers were much more specialized than you’d think

Ancient farmers 5,400 years ago had much a much more refined understanding of animal rearing than you’d suspect, research from the University of Basel reveals.

Lower bovine jaw.

A lower bovine jaw found in the settlement.
Image credits University of Basel.

The study was performed by researchers from Switzerland, Germany, and the UK, led by Prof. Jörg Schibler from the University of Base. It focused on the ancient settlement of Arbon Bleiche 3, which once hugged the southern bank of Lake Constance, Switzerland.

Arbon Bleiche 3 is considered to be one of the most important Neolithic sites in the country of banks and chocolate. This is largely thanks to Lake Constance, whose silt deposits helped preserve the bits of organic material (such as houses’ timber elements) in their original form. Using dendrochronological (tree-ring dating) methods, the researchers were able to date the wood’s age down to the year. As such, they were able to determine that the settlement saw occupation for only 15 years in the 34th century BC.

 

Now that they had a “when”, the team also wanted to know “what was going on” during the time this settlement saw use — in particular, they were curious to see the socio-economic system the inhabitants were using 5,400 years ago. And the fastest way to get a glimpse into that system was to look at livestock and land use patterns in the community.

Toothy questions

Teeth and bones from some 25 heads of cattle were also unearthed at the site, which the team used to get their answers. Using strontium and carbon isotope analysis, the team was able to determine that the farmers in Arbon Bleiche 3 used three different livestock rearing strategies in parallel.

The herd was divided into three groups. One was kept close to the village around the year, a second one was kept on pastures far from the settlement. The third group alternated between these pastures, being sent on more distant pastures for a few months every year. Analysis of enamel and plant traces in the teeth suggests that some of the cattle were taken to higher pastures during the warmer seasons, potentially signaling the birth of modern Alpine pastoral farming.

Seeing such a specialized distribution of grazing lands hint to a more elevated society and more complex social systems than previously believed. Using a wider grazing land allows more animals to be reared while avoiding overgrazing, but requires social systems robust enough to dictate who gets to graze where, and then to ensure that these social contracts are observed.

The team further reports that different cattle herds moved about in different ways. Beyond the 27 houses and the farmer families that lived there, other groups specializing in different kinds of cattle farming also resided in Arbon Bleiche 3. All of which further point to refined social systems governing the settlement, as well as a keen understanding of the wants and needs of different species of livestock.

The paper “High-resolution isotopic evidence of specialised cattle herding in the European Neolithic” has been published in the journal PLOS One.

Switzerland votes against strict phase-out of nuclear energy

Switzerland is, as you’d expect, one of the countries with the cleanest energy. They recently had a referendum in which they decided against the strict and abrupt phasing out of nuclear energy, showing that the Swiss voters understand something most people choose to ignore: nuclear energy is cheap, and it’s clean.

Nuclear energy in Switzerland

Switzerland gets the bulk of its electricity from water. Image credits: Lex Kravetski.

The electricity sector in Switzerland relies mainly on hydroelectricity. The Alps cover almost two-thirds of the country’s land mass, providing many large mountain lakes. In fact, Switzerland uses two types of hydro-electricity: the traditional water-storage, and the run-of-the-river hydroelectricity. Taken all together, hydro-electricity amounts to almost 60% of the country’s electricity. This being said other renewables aren’t so well represented. Together, solar, wind, wood biomass and waste incineration amounted to less than 4% of the country’s production in 2013. The bulk of the remainder is provided by nuclear.

Five nuclear plants generate 37% of Switzerland’s energy. After the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, the Swiss government said it would gradually start removing nuclear energy, something everyone agreed upon. But not everyone agreed upon the timeframe to do this. Some environmental groups said that nuclear plants are only safe to run for 45 years, which meant that two of them would have to shut down almost immediately. Meanwhile, other groups argued that the plants are still safe and shutting them down would only increase the country’s reliance on fossil fuels, which at the moment generate less than 3% of the country’s electricity. This move would have also somewhat undermined the national economy, which is extremely competitive. So the Swiss head on to an interesting vote.

Electricity production in Switzerland, in 2013. Image via Wikipedia.

Electricity production in Switzerland, in 2013. Image via Wikipedia.

As it turned out, despite most people worrying about the state of the plants, the vote came out negative – that is, the country opted to hang on to its nuclear energy. Approximately 55% of voters took the economic route and voted against a harsh phase-out of nuclear. But elsewhere in Europe, things aren’t so clear.

A practical, but unwanted solution

If you talk to someone about clean energy, nuclear will rarely pop up. People don’t seem to want it, despite a plethora of studies which show its resilience and potential. Nuclear energy is 4,000 times safer than coal energy, saving 1.8 million lives between 1971-2009 according to a NASA report. In France, nuclear is the main source of energy, “a success story” that has put the nation “ahead of the world” in terms of providing cheap energy with low CO2 emissions. But elsewhere in Europe, nuclear isn’t doing so hot. In fact, excluding Russia, France generates more nuclear power than the entire continent, and even most countries have announced their intention to phase out nuclear.

So this leaves us with an interesting discussion. If France is such a success story, then why aren’t others trying to replicate its success, and why are most countries going the opposite direction? Germany, often hailed as one of the most eco-friendly countries in the world, still lags behind France not only in terms of CO2 emissions but also in terms of energy price. German people are paying for switching off nuclear and while referendums are easier to incorporate in Switzerland, the Swiss still opted not to keep nuclear  — they just decided to keep it for a little longer. People from other countries, where referendums are more difficult to organize weren’t even given this possibility – and even if they were, they likely wouldn’t have taken it.

Nuclear is, and will likely remain a cheap, efficient, and unwanted energy source. People seem to generally be against it and governments don’t want to stand up to it for the fear of backlash. It’s would be up to the private sector to do something, but as it stands now, there doesn’t seem to be too much momentum on that end. Ultimately, perhaps technological developments will have a word to say. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

Why it’s illegal to own one guinea pig in Switzerland

At first, it sounds like one of the silliest laws ever: in Switzerland, you’re not allowed to own just one guinea pig or parrot. The reason for this is that they’re social species, and they are considered victims of abuse if they aren’t able to regularly interact with others of their species.

Photo by Mikerussell.

If you’re an animal person, you’ll love Switzerland. In recent years, they’ve passed quite a few pet-friendly laws which I hope will be implemented in more places throughout the world. For starters, dog owners must take a course that teaches them how to take care of their dogs, care for their needs and deal with several behavioral situations. Anglers (fishermen) are required to take a course on humane fishing. But perhaps the most heartwarming Swiss law is about guinea pigs: you’re not allowed to have just one! They need social interaction to be happy, so owning a single guinea pig is considered harmful to its well-being and forbidden by law.
They need social interaction to feel good, so owning a single guinea pig is considered harmful to its well-being and forbidden by law.

Animal matchmaking

Guinea pigs are quite curious and inquisitive in nature, but they are timid explorers. They get very attached to their owners and partners. If something does happen to their partner, then owners need to find another one — and that’s not easy (for the humans as well as the guinea pigs). This is why Swiss animal lover Priska Küng runs a kind of matchmaking agency — for lonely guinea pigs.

“Because they hardly ever die at the same time, even if they are exactly the same age, people who don’t want a new guinea pig and lose one of their two animals need an interim solution,” she says.

Her service is in high demand, but it’s also challenging: even though they don’t want to be lonely, guinea pigs can be quite picky about who they live with.

“A young animal can annoy a four or five-year-old guinea pig by being too temperamental and active,” says Küng. But sometimes the opposite is true: Küng has also known guinea pig grandpas to feel rejuvenated by the addition of a younger companion.

What do you think about this approach? Sweden has similar legislation in place and several other countries have sensible laws protecting social animals. Is this something you’d like to see implemented everywhere, or does it feel like overkill?