Fact Check

Did an Artist Design a 'Euthanasia Coaster' For Killing Passengers?

"It is a ride to the death."

Published Mar 15, 2023

 (Reddit)
Image Via Reddit
Claim:
Lithuanian artist Julijonas Urbonas designed a "Euthanasia Coaster" intended to kill its passengers.
Context

Urbonas' design is best described as a thought experiment or conceptual art project. The Euthanasia Coaster does not exist in the real world, nor was it meant to.

A viral post on Reddit and Twitter generated an uneasy mixture of horror, disbelief, and laughter in early March 2023 with its description of an amusement park ride designed expressly to kill people. 

"The Euthanasia Coaster is a concept for a steel roller coaster designed to kill its passengers," the post began. "In 2010, it was designed and made into a scale model by Julijonas Urbonas, who has worked at an amusement park, stated that the goal of his concept roller coaster is to take lives 'with elegance and euphoria.'"

Julijonas Urbonas is a real person, described as follows on his website: 

Julijonas Urbonas is an artist, designer, researcher, engineer, founder of Lithuanian Space Agency, associate professor at Vilnius Academy of Arts. Former Prorector at Vilnius Academy of Arts. Former Director of a Soviet amusement park in Klaipeda.

As also described on his website, Urbonas did create the concept of, and even built a scale model of, a "Euthanasia Coaster": 

Euthanasia Coaster (2010) is a hypothetic death machine in the form of a roller coaster, engineered to humanely – with elegance and euphoria – take the life of a human being. 

Riding the coaster's track, the rider is subjected to a series of intensive motion elements that induce various unique experiences: from euphoria to thrill, and from tunnel vision to loss of consciousness, and, eventually, death. Thanks to the marriage of the advanced cross-disciplinary research in aeronautics/space medicine, mechanical engineering, material technologies and, of course, gravity, the fatal journey is made pleasing, elegant and meaningful.

For the purposes of this fact check, the key word in Urbonas' description of the Euthanasia Coaster is "hypothetic," which we take to mean it's a theoretical construct. Urbonas is a conceptual artist. Although he has resisted in interviews delving into the distinction between "real" and "unreal"  ("I would consider the coaster ... neither unreal nor real, but somewhere in between," he once said), he has also claimed that, "I have quite the list of people who would like to be scientific objects if the project would advance towards realisation. Most of them are elderly from the US. But I don't want to go this far."

So, what's the point of Urbonas' "hypothetic" creation? The closest thing we found to a concrete explanation is this excerpt from an interview he did with Arterritory.com

All my projects have something to do with gravity. To unify them from the perspective of gravitational aesthetics, I am mostly interested in how you can push the definition and perception of the body, as well as the imagination to the extremes, by exposing them to altered states of gravity as an example of both bodily and imaginary extremism may be Euthanasia Coaster. Think of some fictional media, cinema or literature… it makes people emotionally and physically engaged with the narrative. For example, Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, well-known for the woman's murder episode. By the way, did you know that after the premier of the movie in the United States, the sales of shower curtains dropped rapidly? (Laughs) Anyway, I wanted to create something that goes beyond the conventional means of science fiction. Borrow something from sculpture and set-design, and create a unique kind of simulator that makes people almost feel the real ride. To kill people without killing.

How would the Euthanasia Coaster kill its passengers if it were real? As Urbonas explained in the same interview, the mechanism is quite simple and, again, relies on gravity: 

Well first you are lifted up the rail to the top of 500 m and then dropped down, and there are seven vertical loops. When you enter the first loop, you are pushed against the seats so much that the blood goes down and there is none left at the upper part of the body. So, your brain starts to suffocate, it's deprived of oxygen.

We are all shaped to a greater or lesser extent by the circumstances of our childhood, and in Urbanos' case this is true in spades. We leave you with this fascinating TED talk in which the artist recounted growing up in a Soviet amusement park run by his father: 

Sources

Designing Amusement Rides for Alternative Reality | Julijonas Urbonas | TEDxVilnius. www.youtube.com, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BoSkp4WZxJo. Accessed 15 Mar. 2023.

"From a Pleasurable Death to Performing Particles." Arterritory.Com, https://arterritory.com/en/visual_arts/interviews/17818-from_a_pleasurable_death_to_performing_particles/. Accessed 15 Mar. 2023.

Julijonas Urbonas. https://julijonasurbonas.lt/. Accessed 15 Mar. 2023.

"Suspension of Disbelief." Arterritory.Com, https://arterritory.com/en/visual_arts/interviews/22321-suspension_of_disbelief/. Accessed 15 Mar. 2023.

David Emery is a West Coast-based writer and editor with 25 years of experience fact-checking rumors, hoaxes, and contemporary legends.