This is about two resolute individuals with different medical concerns but with one gallant goal in mind – to be able to enlist assistance to bring about a “peaceful and dignified” death, a euphemism for physician assisted suicide.
Let me first talk about Professor David Goodall, an honorary research associate in Ecology at Perth’s Edith Cowan University, who, at 104, is considered Australia’s oldest scientist.
Goodall has produced dozens of research papers and until recently continued to review and edit for different ecology journals.
He does not have a terminal illness but his quality of life has deteriorated that he has secured a fast-track appointment with an assisted dying agency in Switzerland where euthanasia is legal.
“I greatly regret having reached that age,” the ecologist said in an interview on his birthday earlier in April. “I’m not happy. I want to die. It’s not sad particularly. What is sad is if one is prevented.”
Assisted suicide is illegal in most countries around the world and was banned in Australia until the state of Victoria became the first to legalize the practice last year.
But that legislation, which takes effect from June 2019, only applies to terminally ill patients of sound mind and a life expectancy of less than six months.
If that is not ironic, I don’t know what is.
Exit International, which is helping Prof. Goodall make the trip, said it was unjust that one of Australia’s “oldest and most prominent citizens should be forced to travel to the other side of the world to die with dignity”.
The other individual who had already been to the Court of Appeal in London to win the right for what he calls his “fight for choice at the end of life” is Noel Conway, a 68-year-old retired lecturer from Shrewsbury, England, who has been diagnosed with motor neurone disease in November 2014 and his health continues to deteriorate.
When this neurodegeneration occurs, everyday activities become increasingly difficult or completely impossible.
Over time, the condition progressively worsens as the muscle weakens and can visibly waste.
The majority of those diagnosed with the disease are given a three-year life expectancy starting from when they first notice the symptoms.
When Conway has less than six months to live and retains the mental capacity to make the decision, he wishes to be able to enlist assistance to bring about a “peaceful and dignified” death.
This is how Conway, who says he feels “entombed” by his illness, describes his dire predicament now: “I now can no longer walk at all and have to be hoisted from bed to chair, as well as experiencing increasing difficulty with breathing and having to wear my ventilator for 22 hours a day.”
Feeling fatalistic about the whole thing, Conway also issued the following statements: “I know this decline will continue until my inevitable death.”
“This I have sadly come to terms with, but what I cannot accept is that the law in my home country denies me the right to die on my own terms.”
The High Court judges said that as the “conscience of the nation”, Parliament was entitled to maintain a “clear bright-line rule” forbidding assisted suicide.
Again, what an irony for a man destined to die soon, who says, “The greatest fear I have is still being alive but not able to use my body.