Australian scientist’s final words in Switzerland

David Goodall speaks during his press conference a day before his assisted suicide in Basel Keystone

David Goodall, a 104-year-old Australian scientist who ended his life in Switzerland on Thursday, said that choosing how and when to die should be a right.  

This content was published on May 9, 2018 minutes
Dominique Soguel

Goodall left Australia last week and arrived in Switzerland on May 7, after visiting relatives in the French city of Bordeaux.  

Speaking to reporters at a hotel near Spalentor Gate in Basel on Wednesday, the day before he took his life, Goodall stressed he was happy to have the chance to do so 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.

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Goodall, who celebrated his 104th birthday on April 4, was not terminally ill but found his quality of life unacceptable because both his eyesight and hearing were failing him.  

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 have benefited Goodall because he was not terminally ill or suffering from an incurable disease.

No doubts

Born in London in 1914, he went to Australia in 1948 to teach at the University of Melbourne.

Asked by reporters what would be his last meal, the centenarian wryly noted that he was 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".

He married three times, has four children and twelve grandchildren. The family is scattered around the world.

By his bedside Thursday were one of the scientist’s sons along with some grandchildren, who came from the United States and France respectively. 

Goodall was 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 said that “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 took 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,” said 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."

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