We don’t usually think of death as joyful, but that’s the idea behind the Euthanasia Coaster, an extreme provocation that was part of the PhD thesis of Julijonas Urbonas, a designer at the Royal College of Art in London. The concept coaster offers a way for terminally ill people to end their lives through a death-inducing set of drops and loops, which are supposed to invoke a euphoria-like sensation with “surreal dreamlets” before the final loss of consciousness.
The most interesting aspect of the concept (and let’s be clear this is just a concept, and has not been built anywhere but in the scale model you see above) is the idea that the coaster’s track is the “storyline” of the ride, and therefore of the death it creates. There is the long steep ascent, a moment’s pause at the top to reflect or wave goodbye, and then the near-vertical drop before the intense g-forces in the loop deprive the brain of oxygen and euthanize the rider. Urbonas envisions this as a new kind of death ritual, and even imagines caring spectators coming along to watch (and mourn) as their loved one takes their wild ride to the next world.
By turns horrifying and thought-provoking, the coaster asks us to question what constitutes a good death, specifically in a situation where someone is experiencing such pain or chronic illness that the ability to choose death is a humane option. The traditional depiction is one that is peaceful, a quiet passing in bed with sufficient pain medications to kind of slowly drift away. The corresponding emotional experience would be something like contentment: calm, as comfortable as possible, and still. The Euthanasia Coaster, on the other hand, is intensely charged, like ecstasy. It involves extremes: speed, elevation, stimulation. And for those who find thrill-seeking makes them feel alive, perhaps this kind of death might allow them to go out at a moment where they feel their humanity acutely.
I find it’s more frequent these days for people to interrogate the idea of “a happy life” and try to pin down what that means for them. Does it mean more moments of joy? Does it mean a few thrilling peak experiences of transcendence and elation? Does it mean a quiet unruffled state free of anxiety, but also free of excitement? Does it mean diving headlong into struggles, finding meaning and joy but also perhaps discomfort? Different lives, and perhaps different times of life, call for divergent emotional experiences. I’m not sure if there’s anyone who wants to die this way, but just as we find it useful to examine the range of emotions available to us in life, it’s also interesting to question the range possible in death.January 28th, 2015