Without the slightest regret, David Goodall has died for the cause that he lived for. Choosing to end his life at 104, Australia’s oldest working scientist travelled to Basel, to take advantage of Swiss laws which support assisted euthanasia, which is banned in his native country. He died by his own hand at a right to die organisation which he was a member of. And, realising that news of his case had ricocheted around the world, he took the opportunity to promote the cause of death with dignity by holding a last press conference. He hoped that it would pressure Australia towards legal reform.
Indeed, the right to a happy life implicitly includes the right to a happy death. One without the other is, quite literally, a sticky end. But the question of euthanasia is muddied by religious notions concerning the sanctity of life, and the argument that it is a gift from a higher being, which human beings do not have the right to spurn. But in our rights-based construction of the world, complete control over one’s life is the basis of personal autonomy, on which the entire superstructure of modern politics, ethics and law stand. But it is incomplete without the right to choose one’s own death.
This incompleteness is very unwillingly recognised by even progressive legal systems, for it militates against generations of conditioning. In India, suicide has been decriminalised and the courts have ruled in favour of the living will, conferring the right to choose in advance the point at which one would refuse therapy for the prolongation of life. But it will take a deeper appreciation of the rights inherent in the individual, and better protocols to ensure that those who assist in a happy death do not benefit by it, before the final step can be taken.