I was delighted to learn that Australian biologist David Goodall was accompanied to Switzerland for his assisted suicide this week by Philip Nitschke, Director of Exit International, who revealed to media that Goodall had no belief in an afterlife.
I am delighted because I met Nitschke in 2009 in the UK where he was, in the face of enormous opposition, carrying out suicide workshops and discussion groups, one of which I attended in Brighton. I found “Dr Death” – as the media branded him – to be an extraordinarily compassionate man with a terrific sense of humour, and he must have been a great companion to Goodall.
According to this report, Exit International said the scientist was declared dead at 12:30 pm today in Liestal, a town outside the city of Basel, where he had traveled to take advantage of Switzerland’s assisted-suicide laws.
Goodall said shortly before he died:
My life has been rather poor for the last year or so. And I’m very happy to end it.
The British-born scientist said that he had been contemplating the idea of suicide for about 20 years, but only started thinking about it for himself after his quality of life deteriorated over the last year.
He cited a lack of mobility, doctor’s restrictions and an Australian law prohibiting him from taking his own life among his complaints, but he was not ill.
Assisted suicide is legal in Switzerland, where the procedure is available for anyone who acknowledges in writing that they are taking their lives willingly – without being forced. But the practice is frowned upon by many doctors and some others who say it should be reserved for the terminally ill.
Goodall and his supporters want the practice to be more accepted as a legitimate choice for elderly people in sound mind.
On Wednesday, Goodall told a crowded news conference that medically assisted suicide should be more widely available.
At my age, and even at rather less than my age, one wants to be free to choose the death and when the death is the appropriate time.
Hundreds of people – some far more frail than Goodall, who used a wheelchair – travel to Switzerland every year to take their lives. The best-known group to help foreigners end their days in the Alpine country is Dignitas, but others include Life Circle in Basel, Goodall’s choice.
Goodall’s life was ended with an intravenous drip of pentobarbital, a chemical often used as an anaesthetic but which is lethal in excessive doses.
A doctor put a cannula in his arm, and Goodall turned a wheel to allow the solution to flow, Exit International said.
Nitschke, above, said that before activating the drip, Goodall had to answer:
Several questions so he knew who he was, where he was and what he was about to do. He answered those questions with great clarity, and activated the process
Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony played in the background, he added.
His last words before losing consciousness were “this is taking an awfully long time,” Nitschke said, but “he died shortly thereafter.”
Addressing religious opposition to assisted suicide, Goodall quoted in this report as saying,
If people for religious purposes interfere with the free will of other people, I think that’s most regrettable. By all means, let them follow their own choice in respect to the end of life, but don’t impose it on other people.
Exit International said Goodall had requested that his body be donated to medicine, or his ashes sprinkled locally.
He wishes to have no funeral, no remembrance service or ceremony. David has no belief in the afterlife.
The Swiss federal statistics office says the number of assisted suicides has been growing fast: Nine years ago, there were 297. By 2015, the most recent year tabulated, the figure had more than tripled to 965. Nearly 15 percent of the cases last year were people under 65 years old.
I am a supporter of the UK-based group My Death, My Decision and recently had a lawyer draw up a Spanish directive which makes clear to medical authorities that, should I be inflicted with a serious medical condition, I do not want to be kept alive. The directive also makes clear that I want no funeral and that, if my body cannot be used for medical science, it is to be cremated and disposed off in any way my husband sees fit.
Spain’s Congress of Deputies is currently debating euthanasia legislation, as right-to-die lobbyists intensify their campaign in the country.
The Unidos Podemos bill proposes that terminally ill patients over the age of 18, and also adults suffering from “unbearable” psychological or physiological pain, be allowed to access medical assistance in dying.