Definitions

suicide-machine

Suicide booth

A suicide booth is a fictional machine for committing suicide. Suicide booths appear in numerous fictional settings, including the American animated series Futurama and the manga Gunnm/Battle Angel Alita. Compulsory self-execution booths were also featured in an episode of the original Star Trek TV series.

The concept can be found as early as the 1895 story The Repairer of Reputations by Robert W. Chambers, in which the Governor of New York presides over the opening of the first "Government Lethal Chamber" in New York City in the then-future year of 1920, following the repeal of laws against suicide: "The Government has seen fit to acknowledge the right of man to end an existence which may have become intolerable to him, through physical suffering or mental despair." (...) He paused, and turned to the white Lethal Chamber. The silence in the street was absolute. "There a painless death awaits him who can no longer bear the sorrows of this life."

Early mentions

In Robert Sheckley's "Immortality, Inc." (1958), the protagonist wakes up in an unfamiliar future and while wandering dazed by a starkly changed New York finds himself in what he thinks might be a bread line, but turns out to be a line for the suicide booths. In the movie Freejack, which is loosely based on Immortality, Inc., the suicide booths themselves are not shown, but advertisements for suicide-assistance services are visible against the city skyline.

In Ivan Efremov's 1968 novel The Bull's Hour a similar idea of suicide booths referred to as the Palaces of tender death (Дворцы нежной смерти). They're commonly used on the Planet Tormance to control the birth rate.

Kurt Vonnegut's "purple-roofed Ethical Suicidal Parlors" appear in several stories: "Welcome to the Monkey House" and "God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater". In these Ethical Suicide Parlors, a patron receives a free meal in the adjoining Howard Johnson's diner before committing suicide. It is considered a citizen's patriotic duty to commit suicide.

While not a booth, suicide chambers are used to allow people to choose a pleasant form of euthanasia in the movie "Soylent Green," where the character named Sol Roth (Edward G. Robinson) left a note saying that he was "going home." That was a euphemism for committing state-approved suicide via a large, well-appointed, attended suicide booth. Music and a video of choice is then played while waiting to die. In the movie, Sol Roth chooses Ludwig van Beethoven's "Pastorale" played against a viewscreened backdrop of Earth's natural wonders and scenes of pastoral beauty while the drugs took their fatal effect.

Futurama

In the world of Futurama, Stop-and-Drop suicide booths resemble phone booths and cost one quarter per use. The booths have at least three modes of death: "quick and painless," "slow and horrible", and "clumsy bludgeoning though, it is also implied that "electrocution, with a side order of poison" exists. After a mode of death is selected and executed, the machine cheerfully says, "You are now dead. Thank you for using Stop-and-Drop, America's favourite suicide booth since 2008", or in The Beast With a Billion Backs, "You are now dead, please take your receipt."

The first appearance of a suicide booth in Futurama is in "Space Pilot 3000", in which the character Bender wants to use it. Fry at first mistakes the suicide booth for a phone booth, and Bender offers to share it with him. Fry requests a collect call, which the machine interprets as a "slow and horrible" death. It then turns out that "slow and horrible" can be survived by careful contortion around the implements (which is exactly what Fry did to save them both), leading Bender to accuse the machine of being a rip-off. In Bender's Big Score, after failing to initially chase down Fry in the year 2000, Bender wants to kill himself, but mistakes a regular phone booth for a suicide booth. A suicide booth reappeared in The Beast with a Billion Backs where Bender once again attempts to end his life.

According to series co-creator Matt Groening, the suicide booth concept was inspired by a 1937 Donald Duck cartoon, "Modern Inventions", in which Donald Duck visits a Museum of the Future and is nearly killed by various push button gadgets. The suicide booth was closely enough associated with Bender's character so that in 2001 it was featured as the display stand for the Bender action figure. It was also one of the many features of the series which troubled the executives at FOX when Groening and David X. Cohen first pitched the series.

The Simpsons

In the Simpsons episode "Million Dollar Abie", a suicide machine called a "Die Pod" (obviously a pun on the iPod) is featured. The Die Pod allows the patient to choose visual and auditory themes that present themselves as the patient is killed.

Star Trek

In the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "A Taste of Armageddon", people who were deemed war casualties by the government of Eminiar VII were required to enter suicide booths. Treaty arrangements require that everyone that is calculated as "dead" in the hypothetical thermonuclear war simulated using computers actually dies, without actually damaging any infrastructure. In the end, the computers are destroyed, the war can no longer be calculated in this way, the treaty breaks down, and faced with a real threat, (presumably) peace begins.

After the Heaven's Gate mass suicide event was linked by tabloids to an extreme fascination with science fiction and Star Trek in particular it was noted that multiple episodes, including "A Taste of Armageddon", actually advocated an anti-suicide standpoint as opposed to the viewpoint expressed by the Heaven's Gate group. An episode of The Next Generation has also been used to start conversations about medical ethics and assisted suicide during a forum at Central Michigan University.

In reality

The closest thing to a suicide booth to have been actually constructed is the "Euthanasia Machine" invented by Philip Nitschke, consisting of software titled "Deliverance", which asks the patient a series of questions, and automatically administers a lethal injection if the correct answers are made. The system and questions are so constructed that the supplier of the machine cannot be held responsible for ending the life of the patient, who takes responsibility by operating it.

References


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