David Goodall turns 104 today. But truth be told, he takes no pleasure in getting older.
If he could be granted one birthday wish, it would be to die.
“I greatly regret having reached that age,” Dr Goodall said.
“I would much prefer to be 20 or 30 years younger.”
Dr Goodall made international headlines in 2016 when, at the age of 102, the university where he served as an honorary research associate ordered he vacate his office because he was a safety risk to himself.
He challenged the decision and, after much public backlash, it was reversed.
In recent years the renowned academic’s physical condition has continued to deteriorate and so too has his quality of life.
He played tennis until the age of 90, when he could no longer keep up.
He performed with an amateur theatre group in Perth but was forced to give it away when his failing eyesight prevented him from driving himself to night-time rehearsals.
His poor vision also stops him from doing much of his academic work nowadays as he can’t read his emails.
Most of his friends have died.
‘I called out but no one could hear me’
Dr Goodall was still using public transport to commute to and from his university office up until a couple of months ago when he had a fall in his one-bedroom apartment.
“I fell back-first into the corner of the flat and there was nothing that I could hold on to, so I just teetered around on the floor,” he said.
“I called out but no one could hear me.”
He stayed on the floor for two days until he was found by his cleaner and taken to hospital, where doctors patched him up and forbade him from taking public transport or even crossing the road by himself.
“It upset me greatly being restricted in that way, being constrained,” he said.
“There’s certainly a lack of respect, there’s no respect at all.”
This week Dr Goodall celebrated his 104th birthday with family and friends at his daughter’s home.
The ABC was invited along to capture the festivities.
But Dr Goodall wanted to use the opportunity to talk about something more important to him than his age.
A campaign of life and death
He’s been a member of advocacy group, Exit International, for 20 years and plans to spend the rest of his days campaigning for voluntary euthanasia to be legalised in Western Australia.
“My feeling is that an old person like myself should have full citizenship rights including the right of assisted suicide,” Dr Goodall said.
“Once one is past the stage of middle life, one has paid back to society the debts that have been paid out.
“One should be free to use the rest of his life as one chooses.
“If one chooses to kill oneself then that’s fair enough. I don’t think anyone else should interfere.”
Coronial data has found that at least one West Australian with a terminal or debilitating disease is dying by suicide each fortnight.
More than half of the suicides are by people aged over 60, most of them men.
A WA Parliamentary Committee is currently examining the matter and is due to report back by August.
Late last year Victoria became the first Australian state to legalise voluntary assisted dying.
But under that legislation, Dr Goodall wouldn’t be eligible, because he’s not suffering from a terminal illness and despite being frail and almost blind, his health is in fact quite good.
‘He has no control over his life’
Speaking matter-of-factly on the topic, Dr Goodall said he was neither fearful nor saddened about the prospect of his death.
“Why should it make me sad?” he asked.
“I don’t regard it as grim, I regard it as natural.
“One lives some decades and then one dies. It’s not sad. What is sad is if one is prevented.”
Dr Goodall’s daughter, Karen Goodall-Smith, is a clinical psychologist who has had frank discussions with her father about life and death.
“I am close to David and don’t want this,” Ms Goodall-Smith said.
“But also understand that there is little dignity and self-respect being so dependent on others.
“The doors have been gradually closing to him because of his physical wellbeing.
“He is stuck, he has no control over his life, over his body, over his eyesight.
“He’s lived a really good 104 years. Whatever happens, whatever choices are made, they’re up to him.”
Ms Goodall-Smith, her brother and her son are now providing around the clock care to Dr Goodall in the hope that he won’t have to move into a nursing home.
When asked if he’d had a happy birthday, Dr Goodall responded succinctly.
“No,” he said. “I’m not happy. I want to die.”
If you or anyone you know needs help:
- PANDA on 1300 726 306
- Lifeline on 13 11 14
- Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800
- MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978
- Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467
- Beyond Blue on 1300 22 46 36
- Headspace on 1800 650 890