Friday, May 11, 2018

2912. David Goodall, 104, Scientist Who Fought to Die on His Terms, Ends His Life

By Yonette Joseph and Iliana Magra, The New York Times, May 10, 2018
The Australian scientist David Goodall the day before he was to take a lethal dose of barbiturates in Basel, Switzerland. Sebastien Bozon/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
LONDON — On the eve of his death, David Goodall, 104, Australian scientist, father, grandfather and right-to-die advocate, was asked if he had any moments of hesitation, “even fleeting ones.”
“No, none whatever,” Mr. Goodall said in a strong voice. “I no longer want to continue life, and I’m happy to have a chance tomorrow to end it.”

Mr. Goodall spoke on Wednesday before a phalanx journalists and photographers in Basel, Switzerland. That the inquisitors had come from around the globe to hear what would be most likely the last public words of the man once called Australia’s oldest working scientist was evidence that his campaign to end his life had captivated audiences worldwide.

On Thursday, Mr. Goodall died about 12:30 p.m. local time, according to Exit International, a right-to-die organization of which he had been a longtime member.

A botanist and ecologist of some renown, he was not terminally ill, but his health had deteriorated so badly that he had to stop most of his activities — like working at Edith Cowan University in Perth and performing in the theater — and he did not want to continue living. A fall in his home last month exacerbated his condition.

Keenly aware that the news conference on Wednesday was one last opportunity to help promote euthanasia and assisted dying in his own country, Mr. Goodall withstood the barrage of questions, squinting because of the flashing cameras and sometimes struggling to understand because of his hearing loss.

He was flanked by Philip Nitschke, the director of Exit International; and Moritz Gall, a representative for Lifecircle, an association that supports people going through major life decisions and guides them through the laws of Switzerland.

Mr. Goodall said, “I’ve had a good life.” He was not afraid of death but acknowledged that he previously tried to end his life in Australia.

“It would’ve been much more convenient for everyone if I had been able to,” he said, “but unfortunately it failed.”

He was crystal clear about why he had chosen “the Swiss option.” Euthanasia and assisted dying are banned in Australia, though Victoria State has passed a law on assisted dying that goes into effect next year; it will apply only to terminally ill patients who have a life expectancy of no more than six months.
He said he hoped his life story would “increase the pressure” on Australia to change its laws. “One wants to be free to choose his death when death is at the appropriate time,” Mr. Goodall said.

He had flown to Basel from his home in Perth last week with the help of Exit International and entered an assisted-dying center on Monday. Lifecircle, which works with the Eternal Spirit, a foundation that facilitates assisted voluntary death, helped him navigate the process. He had consultations this week with two doctors, including a psychiatrist, in Switzerland, and was visited by the Swiss police as a formality.

On Wednesday, realizing that his case had ricocheted around the world and that responding to the outpouring of requests for interviews would have consumed all of his last few days, Mr. Goodall consented to one final news conference.

He expressed gratitude to the Swiss and regret at having to leave home for Switzerland, the only country that offers assisted-dying services to foreigners if the person assisting does not benefit from the person’s death. (Only 40 Australians are known to have made the journey, according to Exit International, because of the length of the flight and the cost of the trip.)

“I am very appreciative of the hospitality of the Swiss Federation and the ability that one has here to come to an end gracefully,” Mr. Goodall said, adding, “I greatly regret that Australia is behind Switzerland in this move.”

He said that no one in his family had pressured him to change his mind. As for leaving his children and grandchildren behind, he said: “I have already said my piece to my family. I send them my love and I’m glad that I had the opportunity of seeing most of them for the past week.”

Asked if there was anything he still wanted to do, he said: “There are many things I would like to do, of course, but it’s too late. I’m content to leave them undone.”

Pressed about what he would miss, he allowed, “I have been missing for a long time my journeys into the Australian countryside, but I haven’t been able to do that for quite a while”

He was asked about his last meal. “I’m rather limited in my culinary enjoyment nowadays,” he responded. “I don’t find that I can enjoy my meals as I used to.”

On Thursday, he received a fatal dose of a barbiturate intravenously. In order to comply with Swiss law that bans the interference of third parties in the process, he opened the valve to release the solution himself and fell asleep, dying soon after. Some of his grandchildren were with him in his final hours, Exit International said.

He wanted no funeral and no remembrance service, and he asked that his body be donated to medicine or his ashes sprinkled locally, according to Exit. Mr. Goodall did not believe in the afterlife, the organization said.

How would he like to be remembered? “As an instrument of freeing the elderly from the need to pursue their life irrespective,” he said at the news conference on Wednesday.

At one point, he was asked what tune he would choose for his last song, and he said the final movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Then he began to sing, with verve and vigor.

According to Mr. Nitschke, Mr. Goodall did end up choosing Beethoven, and he died the moment “Ode to Joy” concluded.

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