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Professor David Goodall

10 May 2018

Professor David Goodall, 104 years, dies in Switzerland

On the eve of his 104th birthday on 4 April, Exit’s oldest Member, Professor David Goodall, announced his intention to go to Switzerland for an assisted death.

With an Exit Member number of #1848, David Goodall has been a member of Exit longer than most people. An active member of the WA Exit Chapter run by Carol O’Neil, Professor Goodall has attended more Exit workshops than he cares to remember. However he ‘left his run too late’ and Switzerland became his only realistic option.

With the cooperation of Life Circle in Basel, Exit was able to organise a fast-track application for David. He was accompanied to Basel by his long-time friend, Exit nurse Carol O’Neil.

A GoFundMe.com campaign has been created to help them both with costs, #UpgradeDavid

David’s final trip took place at a time when West Australia was considering the introduction of a voluntary euthanasia law; a law which the WA Premier said would not help a person like David Goodall because he was not sick.

Who was David Goodall?

Born in London in 1914, Professor Goodall was an eminent Australian botanist and ecologist. A graduate of Imperial College of Science and Technology where he received his PhD in 1941, David came to Australia in 1948 to take up a lecturing position at the University of Melbourne.

David was subsequently awarded a Doctor of Science from the University of Melbourne as well as an honorary doctorate from the Università degli Studí di Trieste in Italy. He held a number of academic positions in the UK, US and Australia (CSIRO) before retiring in 1979.

David is well remembered for the burst of media that followed the decision of Edith Cowan University to take away his office in 2016. The University argued that 102, the Emeritus Professsor was a safety risk to himself and others. In response to this unwelcome age discrimination, David went public and the University acquiesced, eventually providing him with an office closer to home.

According to his daughter, Karen Goodall-Smith, David ‘is a very intelligent bright man’, properties that age never diminished.

The Backstory

A regular attender of Exit meetings, David would often arrive late and leave early. As one who relied on public transport, he had to fit in. Forever quiet during workshops, he would often seek a private conversation with Dr Philip Nitschke at the tea break. Professor Goodall had obtained a Max Dog Brewing kit in 2012. He wanted to be prepared.

As the years went by, David lived on. That was until shortly before his 104th birthday when he tried to end his life. This attempt failed. The result was a frustrated, desperate man who was fast losing his dignity. This is when his daughter, Karen, emailed Philip Nitschke asking for help.

Now in the clutches of the medical profession a second suicide attempt was out of the question. The only choice that remained open to David in any realistic way was the ‘Swiss Option’. When Philip suggested this to Karen Goodall, he was not expecting David to say yes. After all the 24 hour trip from downunder to the centre of Europe is no mean feat. But make that flight David did, in large part because of the crowd-funding campaign which raised enough funds to upgrade David to business class).

On arrival in Basel, David saw a doctor who would prescribe the Nembutal and a psychiatrist who validated that he was of sound mind. To his credit, David wanted to have his psychiatric review conducted entirely in German. It took quite a few minutes of tooing and froing until he acquiesced and allowed the Life Circle staffer to help translate. You have to admire the man’s tenacity (and his German).

David was even independent in his daily needs. While Nurse Carol was on hand ‘just in case’, David took care of himself in his hotel room. He went to the toilet unaided. He had his dignity. When Carol asked if he needed assistance showering, David ‘fessed up’ that he was not keen on daily showers. He requested, ever so politely, that she not labour the point with him. He would shower if, and only when, he wanted. Fair enough.

Apart from his official engagements, David spent his last days entertaining a steady stream of family members who came and went. While David seemed to like the idea of a glass of wine with dinner, it also quickly put him to sleep at the table. Meanwhile the conversation went on around him and perhaps this was his point.

He told Philip Nitschke that he didn’t feel relevant in the world anymore. We humans are intensely social beings. When one has no peers, a connection to the rest of us is inevitably dented. Plus that with advanced age comes other loss. Loss of hearing, loss of eye sight, and ultimately, loss of independence.

As David explained:

My life has been rather poor for the last year or so. I a very happy to end it. All the publicity that it has been receiving can only I think help the cause of euthanasia for the elderly which is what I want.

Through his days in Basel of long goodbyes, David will be remembered for his incredible patience. He was patient waiting for the family to show to take him out for his fish and chips dinner on what was his final night on earth. He was patient on his final day as the Life Circle equipment had to reconfigured at the last moment. He never once lost his temper. He never once told the younger room to get on with it. He was incredible. He was serene in the knowledge that he would soon be dead. There was clearly no place that he would rather have been.

In terms of David’s actual death, it is now well known that after starting the intravenous Nembutal infusion, he opened his eyes to exclaim ‘this is taking an awfully long time’. After his interlude, and to the tune of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, he gave one last cough and splutter before falling into his deep permanent sleep. In fact the Nembutal worked very quickly. David’s death happened within minutes.

David Goodall’s death has changed how assisted dying in Switzerland is viewed. Even the Swiss Medical Association acknowledged that allowance must be made for those in extreme old age. Assisted dying is not only for people who are seriously ill.

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