David Goodall, Australian scientist, ends his life at age 104

David Goodall photo
David Goodall at his final breakfast (Exit International photo)

One hundred and four years was enough for David Goodall. The Australian scientist ended his life on Thursday, May 10, in Basel, Switzerland. “I no longer want to continue life, and I’m happy to have a chance tomorrow to end it,” he told a news conference the day before, according to The New York Times.

Goodall said he had unsuccessfully attempted suicide earlier in Australia, where assisted deaths are illegal. In Switzerland, he was examined by a psychiatrist who found him capable of making what would be his final decision, as Swiss law requires. On Thursday, Goodall turned a valve that released a barbiturate intravenously. He fell asleep and died a short time later, his family said.

An eminent botanist, Goodall made clear in interviews that he did not believe in an after-life. He also asked that there be no funeral and that his body be donated to science or that his ashes be sprinkled locally. He also said he hoped his decision — and the notoriety surrounding it — would bring pressure on Australian lawmakers to legalize assisted suicide among persons of sound mind.

Unlike many who seek to end their lives voluntarily, Goodall did not have a fatal illness but said that his advanced age had made it impossible for him to do many of the things he enjoyed most and that he simply did not wish to continue living in his current state.

He said at the news conference that he hoped he would be remembered “as an instrument of freeing the elderly from the need to pursue their life irrespective.”

A little help

Goodall was assisted in his quest by several organizations, including Lifecircle and Eternal Spirit, Swiss groups active in hospice, disability and voluntary death, and by Exit International, which has offices in the U.S., U.K., Australia and the Netherlands.

Speaking of Professor Goodall’s death, Dr. Philip Nitschke of Exit International said he was extremely sad to lose such an “inspiring man of science.”

“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. Especially after David’s 20 odd years of membership of Exit International.”

Nitschke founded Exit International in 1996, when he became the first doctor in the world to administer a legal, lethal voluntary injection under Australia’s short-lived Rights of the Terminally Ill Act 1995.

Four of Philip’s terminally ill patients used this law to end their suffering before the law was overturned in March 1997 by the Australian Parliament. The same year, Nitschke retired from medical practice to found what became Exit International.

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