A Roller Coaster People Will Die to Ride

by M-Gillies

At 360 kilometers an hour on the final descent, Julijonas Urbonas, creator of the Euthanasia Coaster, believes people wishing to end their lives need a life affirming thrill before the end comes.

“You relax and press the FALL button. Whirr, swish, the ultimate surrender to gravity! No, you realize, in fact it is even greater than just giving up, as in the blink of an eye you enter the heart-line, the whirling element of the coaster track, where your heart stays roughly in line with the centre of the fall trajectory. In other words, your body spins around the heart while you fall. Gravitational choreography! The scooting gust of wind, goose bumps, suspension of breath, and vertigo – a set of experiences comprising a sort of fairground anaesthesia – prepare you for the fatal part of the ride.” – Julijonas Urbonas

There’s been a long standing debate of ethics over the subject for years and though most places around the world frown upon the very notion of it, there are some places where it is legally permitted to end one’s life, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the US states of Oregon and Washington have freely given this right to people who wish to die. The process is quick, painless and sterile as medical staff easily inject a poisonous cocktail into a person and just like that, they drift into the “big sleep”. And while still controversial among many, the act of euthanasia has made considerable progress over the last decade.

Think Dr. Jack Kevorkian’s “Thanatron” (death machine) or Dr. Philip Nitschke’s “Exit International euthanasia device”, sure these inventions are designed to administer certain death, but what they lack is something spiritual. For instance, Julijonas Urbonas, a PhD candidate at the Royal College of Art in London who grew up in a Soviet amusement park, revealed his own design to bring ritual back into assisted suicide with the “Euthanasia Coaster”.

Though it’s unlikely that the Euthanasia Coaster will be seen in local amusement parks like Disneyland or Six Flags anytime soon, Urbonas’ art concept for a roller coaster which induces an elegant and euphoric death have been linked to the inspiration of John Allen, former president of famed Philadelphia Toboggan Company who once said, “The ultimate roller coaster is built when you send out twenty-four people and they all come back dead.”

Still, playing upon the Felicific calculus (a formulation for calculating the amount of pleasure gained from a specific action) and the Ethical calculus (a method of evaluating an action not in one’s ethical code), Urbonas’ scale modelled, art concept design specifically deals with the notion of making assisted suicide fun and pleasurable without inducing any pain, all while bringing ritual back into the art of dying. Since today’s procedures of terminating a patient’s life is nothing more than a sterilized injection of medicine, Urbonas has taken a critical look at his innovation and applied it to a subject that is in a constant state of debate.

“There is no special ritual, nor is death given special meaning except that of the legal procedures and psychological preparation,” Urbonas said of using medical means as a way of euthanasia. “It appears that death is being divorced from our cultural life much like death rituals are disappearing in our secular and postmodern Western society. But if euthanasia is already legal in some countries, why not make it more meaningful.”

To further support his design, Urbonas reflects upon individuals who commit suicide by jumping, pointing out that often these jumpers will travel long distance to find the correct location, ensuring that it meets an aesthetic preference. He continued to note that falling to one’s death is a unique experience which sets itself apart from other forms of suicide.

Similar to the Euthanasia Coaster, falling toward the ground is a psychological experience whereby the body is in constant anticipation and awareness of the exact time of death and is able to reflect upon the process. He likens this theory to what he calls a three act tragedy.

“Its real-time interface and inherent dramatic structure, the leap, the fall, the impact, a three act tragedy, are not present in lethal injection, shooting yourself or in overdosing on drugs, for example,” Urbonas said. “In the Euthanasia Coaster the ritualistic drama is exaggerated even more. There is a lift up to the tower, the drop, the serpentine fall, the vertiginous and euphoric entry to a series of loops and eventually the fatal ride within the loop.

“Riding the coaster’s track, the rider is subjected to a series of intensive motion elements that induce various unique experiences: from euphoria to thrill, and from tunnel vision to loss of consciousness, and, eventually, death,” Urbonas said of how the roller coaster works. “Thanks to the marriage of the advanced cross-disciplinary research in space medicine, mechanical engineering, material technologies and, of course, gravity, the fatal journey is made pleasing, elegant and meaningful.”

What this means is that using the laws of physics and the limits of the human body, Urbonas’ Euthanasia Coaster will climb to its peak of 1,670 meters before dropping, forcing the 24 passenger railcar to reach a speed of 220 miles per hour. From there, the passengers will face several spiral inversions which will inflict g-force of up to 10 g, inducing a condition known as cerebral hypoxia during its three minute course.

“The rider has a few minutes to contemplate his decision and his life in retrospect. He would find enough time to adapt to the height and get through a series of imaginary fatal falls, while realizing that the objects on the ground are getting smaller, the slightest movement of the car would trigger intense heart-beating and goosebumps and most importantly it would test your decision.”

While there is no documented evidence which can guarantee how long or how much force is required in order for a passenger of the Euthanasia Coaster to fall into a roller-coaster-induced cerebral hypoxia, Urbonas can still make an educated guess.

Though the use of such a ride would be geared toward those wishing to end their lives and prisoners on death row, Urbonas considers the whole ritual a painless, whole-body engaging and ritualized death machine for the rider, allowing them a humane and meaningful death, while to the observers, who may want to come and witness the affair, the Euthanasia Coaster can be seen as a monumental mourning machine.

However, it was during April through June 2011 that Urbonas’ concept has received media attention after being designated as the HUMAN+ flagship exhibition for its theme of highlighting the issue of life extension.

Read more:

The Euthanasia Coaster

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