David Goodall, a 104-year-old Australian scientist who committed assisted suicide in Switzerland today left some parting shots, saying choosing how and when to die should be a right.
Speaking to reporters at a hotel near Spalentor Gate in Basel on Wednesday, Goodall stressed he was happy to have the chance to end his life in Switzerland but would have preferred to do so back home.
“Everyone over middle age should have the right unquestioned to end their lives as and when they choose, but we have quite a way to go in Australia for that,” he said.
Asked by reporters what would be his last meal, the centenarian wryly noted that he is rather limited in his “culinary enjoyments” these days.
Goodall said he had no doubts over his chosen course of action and was grateful for the opportunity to “come to an end gracefully”.
“There are many things I would like to do, but it’s too late.I’m content to leave them undone.”
“My abilities have been in decline over the past year or two, my eyesight over the past six years.I no longer want to continue life. I am happy to have the chance tomorrow to end it,” he said.
Goodall died today after taking a fatal sleeping drug and was surrounded by four family members and a close friend.
The renowned ecologist had flown to the clinic from his home in Australia where euthanasia is illegal.
He was not terminally ill but said he had grown tired of living with deteriorating health.
Dr Goodall had arrived at the clinic just before 11am on Thursday morning and enjoyed a final meal of fish and chips and cheesecake, which was his favourite.
Beethoven’s 9th Symphony was played in the room at the suicide clinic in Liestal, near Basel, as he took the fatal overdose of the sleeping drug.
Goodall arrived in Switzerland on May 7, after visiting relatives in the French city of Bordeaux.
He celebrated his 104th birthday on April 4. The scientist was granted a fast-track appointment at the Life Circle clinic in Basel.
Switzerland is one of the few countries in the world to allow assisted suicide, in which a person is given a lethal drug to administer themselves.
Assisted dying is illegal in Australia. except for one state, Victoria, which in November 2017 voted to legalize euthanasia in some cases.
That law doesn’t come into effect until mid-2019 and would not benefit Goodall because he is not terminally ill or suffering from an incurable disease.
Born in London in 1914, he went to Australia in 1948 to teach at the University of Melbourne.
He married three times, has four children and twelve grandchildren. The family is scattered around the world.
By his bedside Thursday will be one of the scientist’s sons along with some grandchildren, who came from the United States and France respectively.
Goodall is a veteran member of Exit International, an end-of-life choices information and advocacy organisation.
He unsuccessfully tried to take his life earlier this year and had a fall at his home in Perth.
The organization arranged his appointment at Life Circle and raised funds for the scientist to travel business class from Australia to Switzerland.
“In the vanguard”
Exit International director Philip Nitschke says “there is a growing generation of older people who are living longer than ever before, who are not ill, and who are demanding end of life choices”.
“Professor David Goodall is at the vanguard of this generational change in deciding when and how to die,” he said, urging more countries to adopt laws similar to those of Switzerland.
The scientist will take the drug Nembutal, a barbiturate, intravenously. He will turn a knob that will allow a saline solution mixed with the drug to flow into his system.
“He will go to sleep within a minute or two and be dead within the hour,” says Dr. Fiona Stewart, publisher and co-author of the The Peaceful Pill Handbook.
Hollywood icon Marilyn Monroe overdosed on barbiturates in 1962 in a death characterized as a probable suicide. American guitarist Jimi Hendrix died of a similar overdose in 1970.
Stewart says more than 30 Australians have made the trip to Switzerland since the 1998 foundation of Dignitas in Zurich. The number is at least ten times higher for Britons.
The Alpine nation has three assisted suicide organizations catering to foreigners: Dignitas, Basel’s Life Circle and Ex International in Bern (no relation to Exit International).
Assisted suicide and euthanasia, where the lethal drug is adminsitered by a doctor or medical staff, is at the heart of heated ethical debates that touch on religious, medical, legal and ethical questions.
Goodall, a botanist and ecologist, said he would “quite like to be remembered as an instrument of freeing the elderly from the need to pursue their life irrespectively.”