Champagne bubbles danced in fancy glasses and birthday candles burned atop a cheesecake marking 104 years of a long and accomplished life.
David Goodall listened quietly as his loved ones started to sing.
Then he took a breath, made a wish and blew out the flames.
But Goodall was not wholeheartedly celebrating the milestone last month in Perth, Australia. The botanist and ecologist, who is thought to be the country’s oldest scientist, said that he has lived too long.
When asked whether he had a nice birthday, he told the news organization: “No, I’m not happy. I want to die. ... It’s not sad, particularly. What is sad is if one is prevented.”
“My feeling is that an old person like myself should have full citizenship rights, including the right of assisted suicide,” the 104-year-old man added.
Goodall set out on the trip Wednesday, traveling more than 8,000 miles to northwestern Switzerland, where he plans to end his own life next week.
“I don't want to go to Switzerland, though it's a nice country,” Goodall told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. before leaving Wednesday. “But I have to do that in order to get the opportunity of suicide which the Australian system does not permit.”
Switzerland, like most other countries, has not passed legislation legalizing assisted suicide; but under some circumstances its laws do not forbid it.
“I should be glad when I get on the plane — so far, so good,” he said at the airport, wearing a shirt that read: “Ageing Disgracefully.”
“I would prefer to be able to do it in this country,” he told 9 News Australia. “This country is my home. I'm sorry to have to go a long way away in order to end my life.”
For the past two decades, Goodall has been a member of Exit International, a nonprofit organization based in Australia that advocates for the legalization of euthanasia, according to the group’s website.
Exit’s founder, Philip Nitschke, said on a GoFundMe page for Goodall that the group’s West Australian coordinator, who is a friend of Goodall's, will accompany him to Basel, a city in northwestern Switzerland near the French and German borders.
“Once one is past the stage of middle life, one has paid back to society the debts that have been paid out,” Goodall told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. “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.”
In most countries, euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide are illegal. However, a handful of nations — including Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands — have legalized one or both of the practices, according to the nonprofit group ProCon.org. For years, Australia has banned such practices, but in November, the state of Victoria became the first to pass a euthanasia bill, which, by summer 2019, will allow terminally ill patients to end their lives.
Under Swiss law, a person with “commendable motives” may not cause another person's death, and a person with “selfish motives” may not assist in the death; but the law does not forbid a person with “commendable motives” from assisting someone in taking their own life.
The law states: “Any person who for commendable motives, and in particular out of compassion for the victim, causes the death of a person at that person’s own genuine and insistent request is liable to a custodial sentence not exceeding three years or to a monetary penalty.”
And: “Any person who for selfish motives incites or assists another to commit or attempt to commit suicide is, if that other person thereafter commits or attempts to commit suicide, liable to a custodial sentence not exceeding five years or to a monetary penalty.”
In the United States, only six states— California, Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Vermont and Washington state — and Washington, D.C., have death-with-dignity laws for terminally ill patients.
Goodall does not have a terminal illness and told 9 News Australia that, until recently, he had lived a good life.
“The last year has been less satisfactory for me because I couldn't do things,” he said.
Indeed, until recent years, he appeared to be in good health — he played tennis until he was 90, he performed in amateur stage plays until his eyesight began to decline, and he kept up his work as an honorary research assistant at Edith Cowan University in Perth, even after the school in 2016 deemed him unfit to continue making the trek to campus.
The Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported at the time that after nearly two decades on the campus, Goodall was told to leave amid concerns about his well-being. The incident gained international media attention, with Goodall, then 102, calling it ageism in the workplace.
“It’s depressed me; it shows the effect of age. The question would not have arisen if I were not an old man,” he told the news organization at the time.
University officials later reversed their decision.
But Goodall said his health is declining.
He told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. that several months ago he fell down in his apartment in Perth and, for two days, he lay on the floor until his housekeeper found him.
“I called out, but no one could hear me,” he said.
Goodall said he believes it is time for him to die, but his country’s new legislation is of no use to him because it applies only to those who are terminally ill.
Before leaving for Switzerland, where he plans to die on May 10, he told 9 News Australia that family members, including his daughter and three grandsons, were accompanying him on the trip. “It's very good that they shall be here to see me off. I have a lot of family elsewhere, some in Europe, whom I shall see in Bordeaux. In Switzerland, I will also see one or two other members of my family, and so that will also be a goodbye.”
Dying, he said, is part of life.
“Why should it make me sad?” Goodall said recently about his intended death. “I don’t regard it as grim, I regard it as natural.”
This story was originally published April 30 and has been updated.