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 Japanese 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. There a painless death awaits him who can no longer bear the sorrows of this life.”
Suicide Booth in Futurama
In the world of Futurama, Stop-and-Drop suicide booths resemble phone booths and cost one quarter per use.
The booths have two modes of death: “quick and painless,” or “slow and horrible”. “Quick and painless” is only shown from outside the booth as a bright flash around the door and a whooshing noise, so it is likely a form of disintegration. “Slow and horrible” involves a variety of electrical discharges and power tools (including drills and saws). It ends with a single thrust and twist of a knife aimed at the average human gut. After a mode of death is selected and executed, the machine cheerfully says (despite whoever used it would not be alive to hear it), “You are now dead.
Thank you for using Stop-and-Drop, America’s favorite suicide booth since 2008,” as heard in the first episode of Futurama.
The first appearance of a suicide booth in Futurama is in the first episode, 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 “slow and horrible”.
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. This initial appearance of 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.
In the 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.
In Ivan Efremov‘s 1968 novel The Bull’s Hour a similar idea of suicide booths referred to as the Palaces of tender death (Russian: Дворцы нежной смерти). They’re commonly used on the Planet Tormance to control the birth rate. 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.
But, what’s the real story?
The closest thing to a suicide booth to have been actually constructed is the Euthanasia Machine invented by Philip Nitschke, consisting of a piece of Windows software, “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.