David Goodall, an esteemed biologist and ecologist caused a media stir when he announced that he was seeking, at the age of 104, to end his life.
Having had a close relationship with journalists across his lifetime, this announcement came as a shock to many who had followed and reported on his passionate and insatiable approach to life.
In an interview conducted earlier this year Goodall told a journalist “I am not happy, I want to die” sparking what was to be intense media coverage and opinion the world over.
In approaching this topic it must be noted that many people will have intense and varied responses.
To enter into this discussion is to know that it is likely that one will be shocked, saddened and caused to question. Yet, as in all public discussions, to have the discussion at all is vital and to accord those that have differing opinions to oneself, the dignity of listening and honouring, a necessity.
To accord the other with respect, through listening is one of the first steps to navigating tricky topical waters. It is only then that measured, weighed and compassionate responses should be drafted and proffered into the mix.
David Goodall had a career spanning decades, the world and disciplines. Apart from being a prolific botanist and academic he performed theatre well into his 90s and was still working at 102.
A man of science, the arts, the globe and passion, he was awarded the Order of Australia for “significant service to science as an academic, researcher and author in the area of plant ecology and natural resources management” in 2016.
Goodall spoke of enjoying life, even into his 90s but in the years since he described the joy of living having completely dissipated.
For over twenty years Goodall had been a member of Exit International, a group advocating for euthanasia and assisted suicide rights across the world.
Yet when it came to pursuing his own wish to terminate his life, he had to make the trip to Switzerland. On this matter Goodall spoke of wishing that he could have had the option to pursue his wishes in Australia.
Currently euthanasia and assisted suicide are illegal in Australia.
Voluntary euthanasia will be legal in Victoria from 2019 but only for those who are terminally ill and close to death.
His Grandson, Daniel Goodall said he was shocked when he heard of his grandfather’s desire.
He was shocked and saddened but he thought on the matter and said “When I thought about it later, I realised it was a real opportunity for David to be able to decide what he wanted”.
He openly expressed his opinion as to the complexity of the situation.
At a lunch a few days before Goodall’s assisted suicide date, he said that it was very odd to know that they were seeing him that day but in a few days, it’ll be all over, “It’s a very strange feeling”. Daniel articulated that he felt that his grandfather felt cut off from the world around him because of his loss of eyesight and the inability to move and do the things he loved.
Goodall described his life as being “poor” and not having cause to explain at length his decision to his family, it being “evident”.
He felt his deteriorating eyesight and limited mobility greatly impact on his ability to live and enjoy life.
While campaigners for assisted suicide and euthanasia have been around for some time, David’s case has been seen as different as he did not have a terminal illness. To end his life had come from his decision that he has had enough.
Switzerland, while being largely a country of traditions and conservatism, has a very radical legislative position on assisted dying compared to most others.
Assisted suicide is legal in Switzerland as long as the motive for doing so is not malicious. This legislative move has freed up Swiss citizens to get access to end of life drugs and those accessing them have been increasing.
Particularly unusual is the stance Swiss legislation has for foreigners.
Foreigners are allowed to come to Switzerland to end their lives and this has given rise to the term “suicide tourism” and the phenomena being heavily debated.
Experts are weighing in from other sides on this issue.
Psychologists and esteemed professionals from all disciplines have raised their concerns over euthanasia and assisted suicide.
A Swiss professional highlighted the possible pressure this legislation may cause old people in regards to terminating their lives.
Speaking into the real and evidenced precedent of elder abuse, Annemarie Pfeifer said , “Nobody would have to pay [for the elder care]. Families would have more money.”
Pfeiffer spoke into the concern surrounding the perception of old age and the elderly, of old life and the elderly not having value.
Duncan Goodall, David’s grandson vulnerably spoke of the thought of someone taking their own life as repellant to him but after consideration he found that he could rationalise it, that it made sense.
Yet in the lead up to the date of David’s suicide death it wasn’t just his family that was a part of the process, the Swiss circle, the organisation facilitating the death had to evaluate that David was of sound mind to make the decision.
On top of that he allowed the media to ask him questions along the way.
When asked whether he was being affected by the media scrutiny and opinions arising from it he said that when it came down to it, no, because “no other person’s choice is involved” just his own.
In the last few hours before his death David’s other grandson Daniel said that “what we think about it really doesn’t matter”.
During the hour of his death, all media was asked to leave and just David’s family remained. He alone could activate the drug that would cause his death, no one else could administer it.
And then he passed away.
It is telling of the complexity of this issue that, when interviewed after, Duncan, David’s grandson vulnerably said “I don’t know how to think about these things…human life is so valuable and we are called to save it but there are times when we shouldn’t”
“I don’t know how to articulate it, I’ve never felt anything like this before so I don’t know how to talk about it”.
Clearly moved by what had happened, Duncan wiped tears from his eyes and said “He wanted to help people coming after him, he wanted his family to have closure, to give them the opportunity to say the things they wanted to say, to say goodbye”.
Duncan said that his grandfather died by the same ethos that he lived. On his own terms.
This is a complex, difficult and fiercely personal issue for many. The discussion must keep happening.