Our Ageist Response to Dr Goodall’s Death

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The voluntary euthanasia debate has come back to the front page of our newspapers as 104-year old David Goodall flew to Switzerland to end his life, because of old age, rather than a terminal illness. Regardless of which side of the fence you sit on this important issue, the topic of older adults contribution to society has once again emerged.

As a Millennial, I applaud Dr Goodall for drawing attention to a cause he was passionate about regardless of the different views of the situation … but then I was confronted with this statement by Dr Goodall’s daughter:

"He has always felt that there is no point in being in this world — or surviving — if you can't make a difference if you can't contribute to society.”

On the surface, the comment appears rational and straightforward, however, who decides what is a contribution? Our society is falling into the trap of believing contribution is synonymous with productivity. Here lies the poison which suggests that unless you are producing something that society recognises as valuable, you have nothing to give our community.

This culture of valuing productivity above less concrete contributions such as knowledge, experience and human connection, feeds and supports an ageist society. As a Millennial, how am I contributing to this narrative?

David Goodall was 102 when he fought ageist views in the media when Edith Cowan University deemed his travel to work as too risky to be allowed to continue. Partially due to this media coverage, Dr Goodall continued travelling to work after the university reversed its decision to make his work home-based, but possibly more importantly demonstrated the power we have to shift ageist institutional practices. Up until very recently, Dr Goodall was still editing papers, connecting with his family, and had spent the last 20 years supporting ‘Exit International’.

His end of life made me think about how we empower our older adults (and my generation) to acknowledge and recognise the contributions our elders bring to our community. We have a rapidly ageing population. Will we continue to marginalise and ignore them? Stories like David Goodall’s bring these issues the forefront of my mind and show how we still have a long way to go. As a Millennial, I have to be part of this solution.

While one can’t help but agree with his daughter’s statement that his choice to end his life “…made a huge contribution to the euthanasia debate”, there is also the acknowledgement (that if he chose to) David Goodall would have continued to add vast meaning to our communities.

Whether you believe in euthanasia or not, acknowledging our ageist attitudes and ensuring we challenge our personal beliefs will go along way to ensuring all ages are recognised and acknowledged beyond mere ‘productivity’.

Carina Vigus

Carina Vigus is a new-graduate Occupational Therapist with a passion for gerontology and creating positive changes in Aged Care. She completed her Bachelor of Occupational Therapy Honours through Curtin University and is working towards publishing her thesis on ‘Dog Assisted Therapy for Older Adults with Dementia in Residential Care’. Carina hopes to encourage young aged care professionals, like herself, to excel in and improve their aged care workplaces.