Australia’s oldest scientist, David Goodall, has ended his own life, surrounded by family at a clinic in Switzerland.
The British-born 104-year-old was forced to travel on a one-way ticket from his home in Western Australia to Switzerland where liberal assisted suicide laws allowed him to end his life legally, in contrast to his home where it remains forbidden.
In his final hours, Prof Goodall enjoyed his favourite dinner: fish and chips and cheesecake. And in his final minutes, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, best known for its last movement Ode to Joy, was played in line with his wishes.
He was accompanied to the Basel clinic of Swiss assisted-dying organisation Life Circle by Dr Philip Nitschke, the founder of the Australian right-to-die group Exit International.
Goodall flew from Perth, where his daughter, son and grandchildren also live, to France last week to see relatives before arriving in Switzerland. His case sparked controversy in Australia, with doctors in Perth at one point threatening to stop him flying to Switzerland.
He spent his final full day exploring the botanic gardens with three of his grandchildren, who said they were proud of his bravery in the face of great public attention and were glad he would die on his own terms.
At his last press conference on Wednesday, Goodall was in good spirits and sang a few bars of Ode to Joy while wearing a jumper printed with the words “Ageing Disgracefully”.
He said he would have preferred to die in Australia and previously voiced his resentment at the country’s laws, which prevented him from doing so.
“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.
His decision to seek assisted suicide came after his quality of life deteriorated and his eyesight and abilities declined.
“I no longer want to continue life,” he said. “I’m happy to have a chance to end it.”
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”.
“A peaceful, dignified death is the entitlement of all who want it,” it said on its website on Monday. “And a person should not be forced to leave home to achieve it.”
However, the Australian Medical Association’s president, Dr Michael Gannon, says he was concerned that the “suicide of someone who’s aged 100” was being celebrated.
“What is the age at which we no longer celebrate people continuing life?” he asked. “People like Dr Goodall make a decision based on nothing more than they’ve decided there’s nothing more to live for.
“I think that’s a dangerous line to cross.”
“I have serious concerns about a community where we make arbitrary decisions about whose life is valuable enough to continue and whose should be ended under the law.
Goodall, an honorary research associate at Perth’s Edith Cowan University, made international headlines in 2016 when he was declared unfit to be on campus. After protests and support from scientists globally, the decision was reversed.
He produced dozens of research papers and until recently continued to review and edit for different ecology journals.
• In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is on 13 11 14. In the UK Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. Other international suicide helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org