104-year-old Australian promotes right to assisted suicide

104-year-old Australian scientist David Goodall sits in a wheelchair beside Carol O'Neil, an Australian nurse who has been caring for Goodall and who is a volunteer with the nonprofit, right-to-die group Exit International, in Basel, Switzerland, Tuesday, May 8, 2018. (AP Photo/Jamey Keaten)
104-year-old Australian scientist David Goodall sits in a wheelchair in Basel, Switzerland, Tuesday, May 8, 2018. (AP Photo/Jamey Keaten)

GENEVA — A 104-year-old British-born Australian scientist who is planning to kill himself on Thursday says he doesn't think the drugs used for assisted suicide should be available to just anyone, but that doctors should be able to prescribe them.

In an interview Tuesday with The Associated Press just two days before he plans to take advantage of Switzerland's assisted-suicide laws, David Goodall spoke of his determination to end his life. He also talked about his disbelief in the afterlife, his childhood after being born the year World War I began and his family, who lives across three continents.

Goodall, described by the right-to-die group Exit International as its first member, said he's been contemplating the idea of suicide for about 20 years, but only started thinking about if 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 is not ill.

Goodall, a botanist, said he tried clumsily to take his life himself at least three times — and then finally decided to get professional help. He has been looking to draw attention to his desire to end his life in hopes that countries like Australia change their laws to be more accepting of assisted suicide.

Hundreds of people — some far more frail than Goodall, who uses 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 has a libertarian bent but he knows that some religious people — which he is not — might take exception to not letting nature take its course.

"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," he said from his hotel room near Basel's Spalentor tower gate.

Doctors say Goodall plans to take his life with an injection of the barbiturate pentobarbitol, a chemical often used as an anesthetic but which is lethal at excessive doses. Those who take their lives through assisted suicide in Switzerland often get injections 15 times greater than that of typical medical doses for anesthesia, said Dr. Christian Weber, a Swiss anesthesiologist who will help set up Goodall for his suicide on Thursday.

Goodall said after reaching middle age, people should be allowed to decide themselves whether to use medicine to take their own lives.

"I wouldn't suggest that it's available to everyone, and just going and buying it off the shelf," he said. "I think there are plenty of people who might misuse that. But I would accept that it should be done by doctors' prescription — but they should be free to prescribe."

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