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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 entitled "A Taste of Armageddon".
The concept can be found as early as 1893. When a series of suicides were vigorously discussed in United Kingdom newspapers, critic William Archer suggested that in the golden age there would be penny-in-the-slot machines by which a man could kill himself.
Modern writer Martin Amis provoked a small controversy in January 2010 when he facetiously advocated "suicide booths" for the elderly, of whom he wrote:
There’ll be a population of demented very old people, like an invasion of terrible immigrants, stinking out the restaurants and cafes and shops...There should be a booth on every corner where you could get a Martini and a medal.
Following Archer's statement in 1893, the 1895 story "The Repairer of Reputations" by Robert W. Chambers featured the Governor of New York presiding over the opening of the first "Government Lethal Chamber" in the then-future year of 1920, after 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."
However, as the protagonist who relates the story is suffering from brain damage, it remains ambiguous whether these are a result of his delusions or real.
In Robert Sheckley's Immortality, Inc. (1959), the protagonist wakes up in an unfamiliar future and, while wandering dazed in 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 (loosely based on Immortality, Inc.), suicide booths 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, suicide booths are referred to as the "palaces of tender death" (Russian: Дворцы нежной смерти). They're commonly used on the planet Tormance to control population growth.
Kurt Vonnegut's "purple-roofed Ethical Suicidal Parlors" appear in two 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, again as a means of population control.
In John Christopher's novel The City of Gold and Lead, human slaves in the aliens' domed cities voluntarily use the "Place of Happy Release" when they are no longer able to serve. The slave is killed instantly and then cremated.
While not a booth, suicide chambers are used to allow people to choose a pleasant form of euthanasia in the movie Soylent Green. The character Sol Roth (Edward G. Robinson) leaves a note saying that he is "going home," a euphemism for committing state-approved suicide via a large, well-appointed, attended suicide chamber. Music and a video chosen by the client are played while he or she waits for the drugs to take their fatal effect. Roth chooses Ludwig van Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony and a video of Earth's natural wonders and scenes of pastoral beauty.
In Arthur C.Clarke's The City and the Stars, set well over a billion years in the future, in the city Diaspar, human beings resort to suicide when they are tired of life, but with the provision of being re-created at some future date. The computers that store memories of suicided humans decide when and whom to resurrect. Sometimes they create a person who has never existed before, but this is NOT a bug in the program.
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, and that the eyes can be scooped out for an extra charge. 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 favorite suicide booth since 2008", or in Futurama: The Beast with a Billion Backs, "You are now dead, please take your receipt", and at this time many untaken receipts are shown.
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 pressing oneself against the side of the booth, leading Bender to accuse the machine of being a rip-off. In Futurama: 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 Futurama: The Beast with a Billion Backs where Bender once again attempts to end his life, but is saved when dropped into the League of Robots' lair. During the season 6 episode "Ghost in the Machines", Bender commits suicide in a booth named Lynn that is still angry at him over the end of their relationship six months earlier; his ghost eventually makes its way back to his body so he can continue living.
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 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.
In other media
In the Star Trek 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 who is calculated as "dead" in the hypothetical thermonuclear war simulated using computers actually die, 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.
In the seventeenth season Simpsons episode "Million Dollar Abie", a suicide machine called a "diePod" (a pun on the iPod) is featured. The diePod allows the patient to choose visual and auditory themes that present themselves as the patient is killed. It also shows three different modes, namely, "Quick Painless Death", "Slow and Painful Death", and "Megadeath" (a pun on a band of a similarly spelled name). It was a reference to the suicide building in Soylent Green. Being a direct parody of the aforementioned scene, Abraham Simpson receives the opportunity to select his final vision and musical accompaniment: 1960s-era footage of "cops beatin' up hippies" to the tune of "Pennsylvania 6-5000" by the Glenn Miller Orchestra.
In the Battle Angel Alita series, the suicide booth is located in Tiphares and is called 'EndJoy'. The Endjoy was a public suicide booth located in the Dome Park of Tiphares. As the Endjoy was entered it played soothing music and a message stating "Welcome to Endjoy, now just relax and step into the inner hatch". After Alita destroyed it, she pulled out a giant grinder from down below the structure. According to Dr. Russell it is every Tipharian's right to end their own life if they wish. Using the Endjoy is considered a privilege and the invention of a superior race. Presumably constructed by the Medical Inspection Bureau (M.I.B.), Alita noticed people going into it, but not coming out after she was resurrected on Tiphares by Desty Nova. She entered the Endjoy to investigate and tore it to shreds, ripping out the grinder and exposing a current of water that she used to wash herself of the dead Tiphareans' blood. Russell was shocked at Alita's actions, but was forced to reveal what had happened to Lou Collins. Despite Alita's actions, she was not targeted by the M.I.B.
In the movie Logan's Run the year is 2274, the remnants of human civilization live in a sealed domed city, a pseudoeutopia run by a computer that takes care of all aspects of their life, including reproduction. The citizens live a mostly hedonistic lifestyle but have been told that in order to maintain the city, every resident must undergo the ritual of "Carrousel" at the age of 30, where they are vaporized with the promise of being "Renewed".
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.
The machine was legalized for a short time as it was solely constructed for those suffering from various diseases to end their life.
- Euthanasia device
- Euthanasia Coaster, an art concept for a steel roller coaster designed to kill its passengers
- Right to Die
- Assisted suicide
- Jack Kevorkian (1928–2011), best known for publicly championing a terminal patient's right to die via physician-assisted suicide
- "Glasgow Herald". August 22, 1893.
- G.K. Chesterton. Orthodoxy (1908). pp. 64–65.
- Long, Camilla (2010-01-24). "Martin Amis and the sex war". The Times. London. Retrieved 2010-05-24.
- "Space Pilot 3000"
- Futurama: The Beast with a Billion Backs
- Futurama: Bender's Big Score
- Ray Richmond (1999-03-26). "Futurama". Variety. Retrieved 2007-09-15.
- Groening, Matt (2003). Futurama season 1 DVD commentary for the episode "Space Pilot 3000" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- Huxter, Sean (2001-06-11). "Futurama Action Figures". Archived from the original on 2007-08-07. Retrieved 2007-11-02.
- Baker, Chris (2007-11-27). "Futurama Is Back! Grab a Can of Slurm and Settle In". Wired. Retrieved 2008-07-02.
- Moorhead, M.V. (1998-03-26). "Sci-Fi, So Good". Retrieved 2007-11-02.