by Lindsey Bever
On his final day, before he went to a Swiss clinic to die, David Goodall spoke about his 104 years of life — and his scheduled death.
The Australian scientist, who had traveled to Switzerland to end his life because euthanasia isn’t legal in his homeland, answered questions about his well-publicized plans for an assisted suicide: Did he want to eat anything in particular for his last meal? He didn’t know. Did he want any special song played at his bedside? He wasn’t sure — but if he had to choose one, it would be the final movement of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony.
Then, the 104-year-old man burst spontaneously into song, singing in German:
Freude, schöner Götterfunken
Tochter aus Elysium,
Wir betreten feuertrunken,
Himmlische, dein Heiligtum!
In accordance with his plan, Goodall died Thursday at an assisted-suicide clinic, putting an end to a life that, he said, had become increasingly difficult to live.
Around midday, an IV was placed into Goodall’s arm, allowing him to turn a wheel to let the lethal drugs to flow into his bloodstream, according to Exit International, an Australian nonprofit that advocates for the legalization of euthanasia.
“David fell asleep within a few minutes,” Exit International said in a statement, which noted that he was accompanied by his grandchildren.
The “Ode to Joy” of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony began to play in German.
Then, just as the song concluded, Goodall died, said the nonprofit’s founder, Philip Nitschke.
“David Goodall is exactly the sort of member that Exit is made of and is proud of,” Nitschke said. “It was a wonderful experience to know him and be so intimately involved in his final weeks of life.”
The organization’s statement added that Goodall “has requested that his body be donated to medicine and, if not, that his ashes be sprinkled locally. He wishes to have no funeral, no remembrance service or ceremony. David has no belief in the afterlife.”
Goodall, a botanist and ecologist who was thought to be Australia’s oldest scientist, said on his 104th birthday last month he had simply lived too long.
“I greatly regret having reached that age; I would much prefer to be 20 or 30 years younger,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. during the festivities in April. When asked whether he had a nice birthday, he replied: “No, I’m not happy. I want to die. … It’s not sad, particularly. What is sad is if one is prevented.”
“My feeling is that an old person like myself should have full citizenship rights, including the right of assisted suicide,” the 104-year-old man added.
Assisted suicide is banned in Australia, so Goodall boarded a plane last week and traveled more than 8,000 miles to Basel, a Swiss city near the French and German borders. Switzerland, like many other countries, has not passed legislation legalizing assisted suicide; but under some circumstances, its laws do not forbid it.
“I don’t want to go to Switzerland, though it’s a nice country,” Goodall told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. last week. “But I have to do that in order to get the opportunity of suicide which the Australian system does not permit.”
“I would prefer to be able to do it in this country,” he told 9 News Australia about leaving Australia. “This country is my home. I’m sorry to have to go a long way away in order to end my life.”
In most countries, euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide are illegal. However, a handful of nations — including Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands — have legalized one or both of the practices, according to the nonprofit group ProCon.org. For years, Australia has banned such practices, but in November, the state of Victoria became the first to pass a euthanasia bill, which, by summer 2019, will allow terminally ill patients to end their lives.
Under Swiss law, a person with “commendable motives” may not cause another person’s death, and a person with “selfish motives” may not assist in the death; but the law does not forbid a person with “commendable motives” from assisting someone in taking their own life.
The law states:
Any person who for commendable motives, and in particular out of compassion for the victim, causes the death of a person at that person’s own genuine and insistent request is liable to a custodial sentence not exceeding three years or to a monetary penalty.
Any person who for selfish motives incites or assists another to commit or attempt to commit suicide is, if that other person thereafter commits or attempts to commit suicide, liable to a custodial sentence not exceeding five years or to a monetary penalty.
In the United States, only six states — California, Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Vermont and Washington state — and Washington, D.C., have death-with-dignity laws for terminally ill patients.
Goodall said he did not have a terminal illness and until recent years, he appeared to be in good health. He played tennis until he was 90, he performed in amateur stage plays until his eyesight began to decline, and he kept up his work as an honorary research assistant at Edith Cowan University in Perth, even after the school in 2016 deemed him unfit to continue making the trek to campus, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corp.
The ABC reported at the time that after nearly two decades on the campus, Goodall was told to leave amid concerns about his well-being. The incident gained international media attention, with Goodall, then 102, calling it ageism in the workplace.
“It’s depressed me; it shows the effect of age. The question would not have arisen if I were not an old man,” he said.
University officials later reversed their decision.
Goodall said he had a good life, but in recent years, his health had declined.
He told the ABC that several months ago, he fell down in his apartment in Perth and, for two days, he lay on the floor until his housekeeper found him.
“I called out, but no one could hear me,” he said.
Goodall said he thought it was time for him to die. But his country’s new legislation was of no use to him because it applies only to those who are terminally ill.
Before leaving for Switzerland, he told 9 News Australia family members, including his daughter and three grandsons, were accompanying him on the trip. “It’s very good that they shall be here to see me off. I have a lot of family elsewhere, some in Europe, whom I shall see in Bordeaux. In Switzerland, I will also see one or two other members of my family, and so that will also be a goodbye.”
For his final news conference Wednesday in Basel, Goodall wore a shirt that said “Ageing Disgracefully.”
He said there were things he would miss, such as his “journeys into the Australian countryside.”
“There are many things I would like to do, I suppose, but it’s too late,” he told reporters. “I am content to leave them undone.”
He stressed that it was his “own choice to end my life” and said: “I look forward to that.”
Goodall said he hoped his story would encourage lawmakers to consider legislation to allow others like him to make their own decisions about death.
In the end, Goodall said, he would like to be remembered “as an instrument of freeing the elderly” to choose their own death.
“At my age, and even rather less than my age, one wants to be free to choose the death and when the death is the appropriate time,” he said.