Australian scientist David Goodall, 104, travels to Switzerland to end his life

By @chelean on
David Goodall
David Goodall: His career covers 70 years, work in five continents and author of more than 130 scientific works, including theatre performances. Edith Cowan University

David Goodall, Edith Cowan University honorary research associate and Australia’s oldest scientist at 104, has flown to Switzerland to end his life. Despite threats from doctors in Perth, the lauded botanist said his final goodbyes to his family before flying to the European country on Tuesday.

Dr Goodall, an assisted dying campaign supporter, is not suffering from any illness but as he is the advanced age of 104, he said his quality of life started to deteriorate. Assisted dying has only recently been passed in one Australian state, but Victoria will only allow terminal patients the right to end their life from June 2019.

With no choice in his own country, he announced his intent to travel earlier this week to Basel, Switzerland, where a clinic has approved his request for assisted dying. He told the ABC last month that he “greatly” regretted having reached his advanced age.

“I’m not happy. I want to die. It’s not sad particularly. What is sad is if one is prevent,” he said. A GoFundMe was set up by his supporters to help him fly to Switzerland in first class. It had reached over $20,000 of its $15,000 goal in just 10 days.

“I should be glad when I get on the plane — so far, so good,” he told 9News at Perth airport before his flight on Tuesday. Dr Goodall was wearing a top with the words “ageing disgracefully,” a testament that his sense of humour was still intact even as his body was giving up. He will visit family in France before landing in Switzerland with close relatives.

“I have been supporting voluntary euthanasia for many years and I’m sorry that I have to travel to Switzerland in order to execute it. I would prefer to be able to do it in this country,” he said. “This country is my home and I’m sorry I have to go a long way away in order to end my life.”

Euthanasia campaigner Philip Nitschke told the Guardian that Perth doctors had tried to prevent Goodall from leaving the country to seek assisted suicide. He said the elderly academic had attempted suicide about two months ago after suffering a fall. He ended up in his hospital and would have remained there against his will if his daughter had not fought to get him out. They had to hire an independent psychiatric review.

“The doctors started to say, ‘he’s talking about ending his life, there’s nothing much wrong with him, so therefore he’s a risk to himself,’” Nitschke told the paper. Goodall, he said, made up his mind to leave the country after the incident.

But doctors who treated him in the hospital allegedly threatened to prevent him from leaving because he was said to be a danger to himself and not fit to travel. The airline would apparently respond to that claim.

What is assisted dying

Assisted dying, or assisted suicide, is an act that intentionally helps another person to kill themselves by providing them the means to do so. Euthanasia differs from it slightly in that it is an intervention of a third party, commonly a medical doctor, to end a life to relieve suffering.

Switzerland is the only country that offers assisted suicide to foreign nationals, according to BBC. It is allowed as long as the person assisting acts unselfishly.

In Australia, Victoria became the first state to legalise assisted dying. However, it is only available to terminally ill patients.

Who is David Goodall

Born in London on April 4, 1914, David William Goodall is a renowned botanist and ecologist. He graduated from Imperial College of Science and Technology in London where he received his PhD in 1941. He moved to Australia in 1948 and became a senior lecturer of botany at the University of Melbourne.

He was awarded a Doctor of Science from Melbourne University, and honorary doctorate from the Universita degli Studi di Trieste in Italy. He was also a research scientist at various Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) divisions in Australia, as well as a biology professor in the US.

He was made a Members of the Order of Australia in 2016. He is thought to be the oldest scientist still working in Australia.

In 2016, he made headlines when the Edith Cowan University, where he was working as an honorary research associate at the Centre of Ecosystem Management, had dismissed him for being allegedly unfit to be on campus. Concerns were apparently raised to the dean about Dr Goodall’s safety and wellbeing. He eventually won the fight to keep on working on campus.

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