104-year-old Australian scientist David Goodall sits in a wheelchair in Basel, Switzerland, May 8, 2018.
104-year-old Australian scientist David Goodall sits in a wheelchair in Basel, Switzerland, May 8, 2018.

The 104-year-old scientist who has traveled to Switzerland to end his life hopes that his highly publicized move will change the way people think of euthanasia. 

Australian ecologist David Goodall is scheduled to die Thursday at an end-of-life clinic in Basel.

Goodall does not have a terminal illness but says his quality of life has deteriorated significantly in recent years.

"One should be free to choose the death, when death is at an appropriate time," Goodall told dozens of journalists at a news conference Wednesday in Basel.

"My abilities have been in decline over the past year or two, my eyesight over the past six years. I no longer want to continue life. I'm happy to have the chance tomorrow to end it," said the centenarian, wearing a pullover emblazoned with the words "Aging Disgracefully."

Goodall is one of hundreds of people from around the world who travel to Switzerland each year in hopes of ending their lives.

The Swiss federal statistics office says the number of assisted suicides has been growing fast: Nine years ago, there were 297. By 2015, the most recent year tabulated, the figure had more than tripled to 965. Nearly 15 percent of the cases last year were people under 65 years old.

Most assisted suicides in Switzerland are done using sodium pentobarbital, according to DIGNITAS, a right-to-die organization.The drug sends the patient into a deep coma and then paralyzes the respiratory system, causing him or her to stop breathing.

Allowed for decades

While assisted suicides are illegal in most countries, it has been allowed in Switzerland since the 1940s, if performed by someone with no direct interest in the death. The Netherlands legalized euthanasia in 2002 for patients considered to be suffering unbearable pain with no cure.

Australia has forbidden such practices, though the state of Victoria became the first to pass a euthanasia bill last November to allow terminally ill patients to end their lives, which would have excluded Goodall. It takes effect in June 2019.

In the United States, assisted suicide is legal in Oregon, Vermont, Washington, California, Colorado, Hawaii and the District of Columbia.

Goodall and other supporters of assisted suicide say other countries should legalize the procedure so people in very poor health as well as those who are ready to die don't have to travel to Switzerland.

On Wednesday, surprised by the turnout at the news conference, Goodall said he would have preferred to die at his home in Australia. He told reporters that medically assisted suicide should be more widely available and not only viewed as a last resort for the terminally ill.

Goodall told reporters he had no last-minute doubts about his decision. But, the centenarian said he was not without regrets: "There are many things I would like to do, but it's too late. I'm content to leave them undone."