David Goodall’s Death

David Goodall died today and the Washington Post nicely summarized the issues surrounding his death in “David Goodall, 104, just took his own life, after making a powerful statement about assisted death.”

My own views on the subject of euthanasia took shape while teaching medical ethics for many years. I am a proponent of active, voluntary euthanasia. The argument from personal autonomy, in my view, destroys all the opposing arguments. Although I don’t have time here to go into the various arguments defending forcing life on someone who wants to die—slippery slope, don’t play god, etc.—I fervently believe that an honest examination of the arguments overwhelming suggests we respect personal autonomy. For more see one of my posts on the topic.

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10 thoughts on “David Goodall’s Death

  1. I agree with you John.

    What is obviously important is that legislation ensures that no unscrupoluos operater can have the person killed if he/she does not wish to die.

  2. The case of Dr. Goodall made me reflect along two lines of thoughts.

    1. Many of us find Dr. Goodall’s choice to die compelling, whether we agree or disagree with his freedom to choose to die peacefully. We wonder; would we, who have always wished for life to go on for ever, would we one day choose to end it just as Dr. Goodall did? Perhaps Raskolnikov, Fyodor Dostoevsky’s protagonist in his novel “Crime and Punishment” expressed this feeling best when he became so afraid of being caught and sentenced to death for his crime; “…someone condemned to death says or thinks, an hour before his death, that if he had to live on some high rock, on such a narrow ledge that he’d only room to stand, and the ocean, everlasting darkness, everlasting solitude, everlasting tempest around him, if he had to remain standing on a square yard of space all his life, a thousand years, eternity, it were better to live so than to die at once! Only to live, to live and live! Life, whatever it may be!… How true it is! Good God, how true!” Those words conjured up in my brain, when I first read them at a very young age in 1967, an image of a lone man standing on a large rock in the middle of nowhere and who still wants to go on living like this for eternity.

    2. Dr. Goodall must have lived a lonely life most of his days. He fell, called for help and was not heard and stayed on the floor for two days until he was discovered by a house keeper! Even though he spoke coherently and intelligently and his mind seemed, from the videos, to be as sharp as a raiser, his life became meaningless as it became useless to his relatives and community. This is a symptom of our individualistic modern life. In Arabic culture and some other cultures as well, people like him will be considered ‘baraka’ or a blessing in the house. He would have been treated with respect and veneration and would be listen to for advice and stories of the family, the community, the tribe and the whole nation. He would never feel worthless or without value for his relatives and the whole community with whom he comes into contact. He would thus sustain a meaning of his life which is nourished by the meaning his community feels he has for them. This distinguished status is not bestowed upon one suddenly at a certain age. No, in such a culture the young respects and honours those older than them and those in turn respect and honour those who are even older and so on, which applies to both genders. I feel that if Dr. Goodall had lived in such a culture, most probably and despite his health, he would not have chosen to die.

  3. Assisted dying made sense to me until (in the past few years) I realized that suicide probably doesn’t work from the internal perspective.
    If quantum immortality is an accurate description of consciousness, then attempting to die just makes it more likely you will experience an indefinite period of confusion and pain before clarity returns in some future technological paradigm.
    Goodall is gone in OUR branch of spacetime — and most others — but in the few where Goodall lingers, he has become a scientific and media sensation because his body refuses to succumb. Eventually, the odds become so ridiculous that it is more likely he “wakes up from the human simulation” than he continues to flirt with defying the laws of thermodynamics.
    A better solution, in my view, is indefinite palliative care in a group home, with arrangements for cryostorage of the brain upon legal death.
    Minimal pain, and an increasing detachment from the reality of the external world, until (ideally) the lights suddenly snap on and a soothing voice whispers “Welcome back, Mr. Arends.”
    Hopefully, I won’t awaken in a world that tortures past generations’ white males for sport.

  4. Alhazen is wrong when he assumes that Dr. Goodall “must have lived a lonely life most of his days”. Alhazen does not know that at all. He then compounds this mistake by extrapolating it to become a general criticism of our “individualistic modern life”, maintaining that that old people such as Dr. Goodall should live with family members to avoid feeling “worthless” and to “sustain a meaning of life”. That may be true for some individuals, but not for all. Each person is unique and should seek a life in old age that provides meaning to him or her. By all accounts, Dr. Goodall lived a very meaningful life. His courageous, public manner in explaining his reasoning to end his life only added to the meaning of life for him as an individual. I, for one, celebrate his life and respect his decision as to the timing and manner of his death.

  5. Jim Rogers and JGM; I assumed the man was lonely because 1- he lived alone, 2- fell and no one heard his cries for help and laid on the floor for two days before he was discovered by a domestic helper, and if his clothes were soiled, can you imagine the shame a dignified man like him must have felt? 3- He went to the trouble of raising a court case against his university which wanted him out of its campus, for his safety the university said; oh, the irony! But he was eventually evicted from his office where he used to see fellow professors and students and perhaps enjoyed daily intellectual contact, 4- none of his children and grandchildren, according to him, tried to dissuade him from putting an end to his life; do you think this will be the case if, on a daily basis, some of them saw him, sought his opinions, listened to his stories and were happy to see their little children play around him and him cuddling and laughing with them? Do you think he would decide to depart if he felt he was appreciated and not a burden?

    Bear in mind also that Dr Goodall was born and grew up as an Englishman and the English, in general, are very proud and reserved and would not easily express their need for companionship except on some occasions after a few pints of bitter.

    Now what makes you think you are right in assuming that he did not live a lonely life in his old age?

    People may decide to take their lives when their physical pain becomes unbearable and also when their psychological pain becomes unbearable. Dr Goodall was not suffering any unbearable physical pain and his mental faculties appear to be impeccable. I was only trying to guess his unbearable psychological pain which he might have felt due to his loneliness, shame and feeling of not being of value to anyone. Can you try to rationalise the reasons behind his decision to end his life?

  6. Appreciate your thoughtful reply. Gives me something to think about. JGM

  7. The main purpose of my earlier comment was to return the focus of the discussion to Dr. Goodall’s death and the topic of Euthanasia in general. And I apologize for the rather direct nature of my comments. Believe it or not, I am in general agreement with many of the points made by Alhazen in his first comment. But the subject of this discussion is not elder care or what situation would be good for me or someone else as we age well beyond the typical human lifespan.

    So please allow me to rephrase my comment as follows: We should not make assumptions about Dr. Goodall’s quality of life or state of mind leading up to his decision. It appeared that he made his own, independent decision based on his own unique circumstances; and there were no unethical pressures placed on him. At that point, given his age, I completely respect and admire his decision. Despite any difficulties he had in his later years, I maintain that he lived a long and meaningful life.

    At 104 years old, Dr. Goodall was extremely fortunate to be able to legally make the decision to end his life and be able to travel to a jurisdiction that allowed it. Most of us, if we live to be 104 years old, will no longer be mentally competent enough to make such a decision. Compounding that, in many places such a decision is not currently allowed even if mentally competent. That is why Euthanasia and all ethical considerations surrounding the decision to end one’s life is a very relevant and important discussion.

    Being healthy in my late sixties, I look forward to many more years or decades of life. But eventually there will come a time when I may have to make the same tough decision that Dr. Goodall made; and I just hope I’m competent and courageous enough to make that decision – and that I’ll be allowed to do so.

  8. Jim Rogers, I beg to differ; people don’t put an end to their lives because they are courageous but because their present lives are unbearable and it is vital that we should find out why. It is by studying such phenomena that we become critical of our society and try to improve it. I can imagine Dr Goodall in another society where he would not choose to end his life. We therefore need to investigate because he must have lived many painful years before he decided to opt out of this world. To be fair to him, he didn’t have the choice to live a different life as an old man except to live alone.

    Not all old people reach Dr Goodall point, some do and some don’t. We need to ask why and I am sure, once we find out why, we wouldn’t want to use the findings to encourage more old people to end their lives, and deep down we know why.

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