BERLIN — Renowned for his academic achievements across Australia, 104-year old David Goodall has lived a mostly quiet life in Perth, western Australia, in recent years. Now he wants it to end — on his terms.
Virtually overnight, Goodall has begun to dominate headlines across the world. News about him will culminate next week, after the 104-year old ends his life through assisted dying in Switzerland.
Goodall started his trip from Australia to Europe on Thursday, a right-to-die activist who is accompanying the scientist said. Despite the global attention his trip is causing and the illegality of his plans in Australia, officials allowed Goodall to leave the country.
“I am 104 years old so I haven’t got much time left anyway. … I might as well not have it [my health] getting worse and worse, making me unhappy as it goes,” Goodall told Australia’s ABC channel.
“I’m sorry that I have to travel to Switzerland in order to execute it,” he said.
Why have Swiss lawmakers been willing to turn their country into a hub for citizens and foreigners like Goodall who are willing to die? Well, they haven’t. The difference to Australia and most other countries that prohibit assisted dying is that there are no explicit rules in Switzerland to regulate the industry.
In the country in the middle of Alps, assisted dying is controversial. The debate over it has prevented successive governments from being able to reach consensus on more comprehensive legislation.
Some of the strongest criticism has come from Swiss church officials who argue that assisted dying contradicts Christian values. Other critics fear that pensioners may see themselves pressured to commit suicide in order not to be a burden to others in their final life stages.
Although Swiss doctors are not allowed to kill patients themselves, they are able to provide them with lethal drugs without having to fear legal consequences. If a patient wants to end his or her own life, doctors need to make sure that the decision is well-grounded and was made without external pressure.
It’s a decision an increasing number of people are choosing to make. Even though assisted dying has been legal there for decades, only up to 200 individuals a year decided to end their lives that way in the early 2000s. By 2015, that number had risen to about 1,000 every year.
Many suffer from terminal or incurable illnesses, which is also a valid reason for seeking assisted suicide in some other nations, including Belgium and the Netherlands, which have an even more liberal stance.
Most patients from abroad who come to Switzerland to end their lives are from Germany, followed by Britain, France, Italy and the United States.
But rising interest may also be connected with Switzerland’s own demographic change — an increasingly aging society — and European governments’ inability to confront some of the issues that affect the elderly most severely, including loneliness. As a result, today’s generation of retirees has become significantly more open to assisted dying, which is reflected in a spike in membership applications to euthanasia or assisted suicide organizations.
It’s not just hundreds who have signed up to support such organizations in Europe or to prepare their own deaths — it’s hundreds of thousands.
Support for euthanasia is also on the rise elsewhere, including in Australia where the state of Victoria recently passed a bill to legalize assisted dying. It will take effect in summer 2019 — too late for Goodall.