Switzerland has voted for a new ‘presumed consent’ system on organ donations, which makes everyone a potential donor after their death—unless ‘opted out’ by the individual during their lifetime. The Federal Council and Parliament proposed the legal change on 15 May 2022, which was approved by over 60 per cent of voters with the aim to boost chances of patients on the waiting list and save more lives in the country.
According to the current laws in Switzerland, transplants are only possible if the deceased person had consented to it while alive. However, their wishes often remain unknown and, in such cases, the decision is usually left to the person’s family and relatives—who mostly opt against the donation. This system has left many waiting in vain for organ donors.
In fact, as per Swisstransplant, the Swiss National Foundation for organ donation and transplantation, one to two patients die every week while waiting for an organ donation in Switzerland. At the end of 2021, more than 1,400 patients were on the waiting list in the country of about 8.6 million people. Meanwhile, the foundation estimated that only 166 deceased individuals had donated their organs last year—with a total of 484 organs from deceased donors being transplanted to those in need.
In a press conference held at Bern, Franz Immer, director of Swisstransplant, admitted the voting result for the new system is a ‘yes to life’. “The public have shown that they are ready to give a chance to the people who are on the waiting list,” Immer added.
Under the ‘presumed consent’ model, people who do not wish to become organ donors after death must explicitly say so. Those who have not made their wishes clear would be assumed to be in favour. However, relatives would still be able to refuse if they know or suspect that the person concerned would have chosen not to donate an organ. In cases where no relatives can be contacted, no organs may be removed.
The rules of the system—which are already adopted in a number of other countries including Spain, Belgium, France, Austria and Wales—would only be applicable to those aged 16 and above. The medical conditions for donations also remain the same: only people who die in a hospital’s intensive care unit can donate their organs and two doctors must confirm the death.
Although Swiss Health Minister Alain Berset called the new move an “evolution,” not everyone agreed with the government’s proposals. According to France24, a group headed by a midwife and a doctor, with support from some theologians, jurists, populists and the religious right, has gathered enough signatures to force the issue to a referendum. “They claimed it was ethically dubious to assume that someone who has not made their wishes clear would consent to donate an organ,” the outlet wrote. “They insisted on the need for patients to provide explicit, informed consent before any and all medical procedures. They also warned that the shift would place greater strain on relatives of the deceased, who might not dare refuse, for fear that they would be viewed as selfish.”
At the same time, however, the Yes to the Transplantation Act committee highlighted how 80 per cent of the population supports organ donation. “An organ donation can save the lives of up to nine people and significantly improve their quality of life,” they outlined. “It is six times more likely that you or a family member could need a donor organ than that you could donate your organs.”
As of today, the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) predicts that the new presumed consent model will come into force in 2024 at the earliest.
From manufacturing artificial organs to testing skincare routines in zero gravity, space stations and satellites have been hailed as the sophisticated factories of the future. But what if the economic potential of space could be pushed to include other commercial activities like warehousing and even transportation? Enter Inversion Space, a Los Angeles-based startup aiming to turn outer space into the next frontier for express deliveries.
Building Earth-orbiting capsules, Inversion Space aims to not only send items into orbit but bring them back to Earth and help deliver the packages anywhere in the world within minutes. To make the latter pitch a reality, the capsules will reenter the Earth’s atmosphere at 25 times the speed of sound—leveraging parachutes to ensure a soft landing and undisturbed cargo. Anyone else still worried about their fragile parcels?
By 2025, Inversion Space seeks to develop a four-foot-diameter capsule bearing cargo equivalent to the size of a few carry-on suitcases. Once in orbit, the capsule is designed to navigate itself to a private commercial space station or stay in orbit with solar panels—until summoned back to Earth. Deploying parachutes, the capsule will then re-enter the atmosphere to land within a radius of ten miles from its target location. “The company has planned a smaller demonstration capsule with a 20-inch diameter to be ready by 2023,” The New York Times noted.
In an interview with the outlet, the startup’s founders, Justin Fiaschetti and Austin Briggs, outlined the capsule’s potential to store artificial organs that could be delivered to an operating room within a few hours or “serve as mobile field hospitals floating in orbit that would be dispatched to remote areas of the planet.” If successful, Inversion Space would pave the way to numerous containers floating around in space for up to five years—doubling up as distant storage lockers.
In the long run, the initiative could ultimately lead to the creation of a shortcut through space that could foster unimaginably fast deliveries. “Like delivering a New York pizza to San Francisco in 45 minutes,” The New York Times went on to explain.
Though this sounds like a wild Hollywood script, let’s not forget that the cost of accessing space is becoming cheaper—thanks to private companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin. While Inversion Space declined to offer the estimated cost of its capsules, it’s worth noting that the monetary value of launching one kilogram of payload to outer space has fallen by roughly 90 per cent in the last 30 years.
However, the project comes with its own list of reality checks. For starters, the capsules face the impending risk of burning up while reentering the atmosphere. “It becomes harder when you have a smaller item to control,” Seetha Raghavan, a professor in the University of Central Florida’s mechanical and aerospace engineering department, told The New York Times—adding how it’d be even more difficult to handle the heat, vibration and deceleration as the size of the capsules shrink.
Then comes the entire debate about its addition to the congestion in outer space, otherwise known as space junk. While SpaceX’s Starlink satellites are already photobombing astronomy images—alongside its plans to send the world’s first digital billboard into space—Inversion Space highlighted that it’s using materials to make its capsules “significantly less reflective to decrease visual pollution.” The startup also admitted that the capsules would be produced with systems to avoid debris and collisions in orbit.
Nevertheless, Inversion Space has already raised $10 million in seed money to fund its venture. Joining Y Combinator, a Silicon Valley incubator known for early investments in Airbnb and Stripe, the startup in question is one among the growing number of researchers and companies who are now looking to make commercial activities feasible in the skies and beyond.