Scientist Stephen Hawking backs assisted dying
Professor Stephen Hawking, who branded assisted death as “a great mistake” in 2006, has changed his stance dramatically and backed the Assisted Dying Bill due for debate by the peers on Friday.
The 72-year-old scientist has been cited before by those opposing the issue as a poster-boy example of a man who has achieved literary and scientific success despite the limitations of a failing body.
This turnaround came as unexpectedly as the support given by Desmond Tutu earlier this week amidst censure from the majority of religious leaders.
In his interview with the BBC Hawking stated: “I believe one should have control of one’s life, including its ending. There must be safeguards that the person concerned genuinely wants to end their life and they are not being pressurised into it or have it done without their knowledge or consent as would have been the case with me.”
The cosmologist referred to his experience of being placed on a life support machine when he became terminally ill with pneumonia and his first wife Jane was given the option of turning it off.
He was given two or three years life expectancy after being diagnosed with motor neurone disease at the age of 21.
Hawking has added a valuable voice to supporters of assisted dying: novelist Sir Terry Pratchett, retired bishop Desmond Tutu and the ex-Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey.
Euthanasia is legal in three countries worldwide, and assisted dying in five countries and several US states.
Assisted dying is illegal in the UK. Between 2003 and 2006 Lord Joffe made several attempts to introduce bills to legalise assisted suicide in England and Wales but they were all rejected by the UK parliament.
Last year, former lord chancellor Lord Falconer of Thoroton tabled an Assisted Dying Bill in the parliament, seven years after the last attempt was made.
Falconer’s Bill is due on Friday and will focus on the legalisation of safe-guarded consensual assisted suicide for the terminally ill with a predicted lifespan of under six months, and has inevitably raised great controversy, public support and criticism.
Lord Falconer has raised concerns that opponents of assisted dying could challenge to obliterate his bill and put it aside as “wrecking amendment” in the House of Lords on Friday.
He told the Guardian: “I fear that somebody may put a wrecking amendment down. The way you kill it is you put a motion down referring it to a select committee not a bill committee. That finishes it off for that session. I am urging all of my supporters to come on Friday to vote down such a motion.”