An 81-year-old Australian man used a do-it-yourself robotic "suicide booth" to kill himself yesterday.
He investigated the requirements for the device online; he was apparently able to download the basic plans for a machine. After constructing a device that would fire a .22 semi-automatic pistol, he positioned himself in front of it and set it into motion. The man, whose name has not been released, despaired upon learning that he would no longer be able to live independently. He was found dead by neighbors.
As grisly as it may sound, the idea is already part of science fiction. Fans may recall the Suicide Booths (see photo) from the 1990's Futurama series; for only 25 cents, people (or robots) could enter the booth and be killed by robotically operated knives, saws and other implements of destruction. General Motors aired an ad about a robot thinking about suicide.
In the classic 1967 Star Trek episode A Taste of Armageddon, two warring planetary societies used what amounted to a computer game to wage war on each other without all that messy bombing and destruction of property. The "score" was settled by the end of every day, as people lined up dutifully at automated suicide booths.
Kurt Vonnegut used a similar idea in his very early stories like Welcome to the Monkey House; the Ethical Suicide Parlors were staffed by human beings.
Perhaps the earliest reference to this idea is the government lethal chamber from the 1895 story The Repairer of Reputations.
As I recall, John Varley used the idea of a computer-based interactive suicide note in his award-winning 1984 story Press Enter.
(This Science Fiction in the News story used with permission of Technovelgy.com - where science meets fiction)