People who enjoy roller coasters are often seen as thrill seekers, looking to experience a physical sensation outside of what their body can normally provide. Part of the enjoyment of thrill rides is the visceral sensation of fear itself, like the feeling of watching a horror movie. Fear can manifest physically as a pounding heart, faster breathing and an energy boost caused by the release of adrenaline and cortisol.
But for one provocative artist, this feeling was simply not enough. He wanted to go one better, and created a roller coaster so intense that it might actually kill you.
The death roller coaster
Lithuanian artist Julijonas Urbonas came up with the macabre concept for what he calls the “Euthanasia Coaster,” which would provide people with a “euphoric” way to kill themselves.
On his website, he describes the project as a “hypothetical death machine in the form of a roller coaster, engineered to humanely — with elegance and euphoria — take the life of a human being.”
Urbonas designed the coaster while he was a PhD candidate at the Royal College of Art, London. He described his aim in creating a machine that could counter existing methods of euthanasia. (There are currently a handful of states in the U.S. that allow for physician-assisted suicide.)
The roller coaster uses “extreme g-force” to kill people as they hurtle down 1640 feet to reach a speed of 328 feet per second. “Current euthanasia machines are medicalized, secularized, sterilized,” he explained in this video:
Urbonas also described how the ride worked. “Your blood is rushed to your lower extremities so there is a lack of blood in your brain, so your brain starts to suffocate. When your brain starts to suffocate, people become euphoric.” But Urbonas’ claims are not shared by everyone.
The concept was presented at the Museum of Modern Art in their Design and Violence installation series. On the accompanying blog, Dr. Antonio Damasio, a Portuguese-American neuroscientist, said, “Unfortunately, the likelihood of any pleasure and euphoria being produced is low; nausea and discomfort would be more probable.” He also stated that the coaster was “preposterous as a technical device.”
The idea also sparked outrage among anti-euthanasia groups. Dr. Peter Saunders from Care Not Killing, a UK-based organization, told the Mail Online, “Whilst appreciating the artist’s sense of humor and light-heartedness, we also need to remember that the life of a human being cannot ever be taken ‘humanely with elegance and euphoria’ and with this method the last sensation would more probably be one of overwhelming vertigo and fright.”
The roller coaster remains only a concept, an artistic statement that exists as a small model. In a rebuttal to Dr. Damasio’s statement on the MoMA blog, Urbonas added, “The death coaster hints at the possibility for a specific kind of semantic pleasure: an alternative ritualized death appealing to both the individual and the mourning public. Of course, it is not for everybody, very much like thrill rides and horror movies.”