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Australia’s oldest scientist dies with assistance
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Australia’s oldest scientist, David Goodall, has ended his own life at a clinic in Switzerland, surrounded by family and while listening to Ode to Joy from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. The British-born 104-year-old professor travelled from his home in Western Australia to Switzerland where liberal assisted dying laws allowed him to end his life legally, in contrast to Australia where it remains forbidden.

In his final hours, Goodall enjoyed his favourite dinner: fish and chips and cheesecake. And in his final minutes, he listened to Beethoven, reportedly passing away shortly after the piece of music finished. Family members were with Goodall until his death, which was preceded by formal paperwork that visibly frustrated the scientist, who said: “What are we waiting for?” He was accompanied to the clinic of the Swiss assisted dying organisation Life Circle by Dr Philip Nitschke, the founder of the Australian right-to-die group Exit International.

To end his own life, Goodall had to turn a wheel that allowed a lethal infusion to flow into his bloodstream through a cannula on his arm. Nitschke said the professor did this “after answering questions which said he knew who he was, where he was and what he was about to do, and he answered these questions with great clarity”. “In fact his last words were: ‘This is taking an awfully long time!’”

Assisted dying, where patients take the final action to end their lives, is legal in Canada, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Switzerland and parts of the US.

Goodall, a botanist and ecologist, had been campaigning for his home country Australia, where the state of Victoria is planning to legalise assisted dying for the terminally ill from 2019, to follow suit.

David Goodall

“What I would like,” Goodall said in an interview, “is for other countries to follow Switzerland’s lead and make these facilities available to all clients, if they meet the requirements, and the requirements not just of age, but of mental capacity.” Though Goodall was not terminally ill, he had seen his eyesight and mobility deteriorate considerably in recent years and said that his life stopped being enjoyable “five or 10 years ago”. The scientist requested that his body be donated to medicine or, if that were not possible, that his ashes be scattered locally in Switzerland. He wished to have no funeral, remembrance service or ceremony, since he had “no belief in the afterlife”.

At his last press conference on Wednesday, Goodall was in good spirits wearing a jumper printed with the words “ageing disgracefully”. He said he would have preferred to die in Australia and previously voiced his resentment over the country’s laws. “Luckily my family who are in various parts of Europe and America have rallied round and come to see me, and I welcome the opportunity to see them, which I probably wouldn’t have had if I hadn’t pursued this Swiss option,” he told journalists.

He appeared bemused by public interest in his case. “At my age, or less than my age, one wants to be free to choose the death when the death is at an appropriate time,” Goodall said.

Exit International, which helped Goodall make the trip, said it was unjust that one of Australia’s “oldest and most prominent citizens should be forced to travel to the other side of the world to die with dignity”.

(Text input from The Guardian)

David Goodall