Archbishop Tutu records video supporting assisted dying

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu‚ 85‚ has recorded a video saying he wants the option of assisted dying “when the time comes … to pass” and endorsing Aids in Dying Bills to make it legal worldwide.

The message reads:

“Hello‚ dear sisters and brothers. As a Christian‚ I believe in the sanctity of life and that death is a part of life.

“I hope that when the time comes‚ I am treated with compassion and allowed to pass on to the next phase of life’s journey in the manner of my choice.

“My friend‚ Lord Carey [the retired Archbishop of Canterbury]‚ has passionately argued for an assisted dying law in the United Kingdom. His initiative has my blessing and support – as do similar initiatives in my home country‚ South Africa‚ in the United States‚ New Zealand‚ and parts of the European Union‚ and right across the world.

“People who are terminally ill should have the option of dignified and compassionate assisted dying‚ alongside the wonderful palliative care that already exists.

“I pray that politicians‚ lawmakers‚ and religious leaders have the courage to support the choices terminally ill citizens make in departing Mother Earth with dignity and love. God bless you.”

Two years ago‚ the cleric and human rights leader authored an opinion article in The Guardian announcing the reversal of his lifelong opposition to assisted dying as an option for terminally ill adults to stop unbearable end-of-life suffering.

But he was more ambiguous about whether he personally wanted the option: “I would say I wouldn’t mind‚” wrote the Nobel Peace Prize laureate at the time.

The new video was recorded in June for Dignity in Dying and Compassion & Choices but is being promoted now on Tutu’s 85th birthday.

“People around the globe‚ of every religion‚ recognise Archbishop Tutu’s unquestionable moral authority. His very personal endorsement of medical aid in dying will comfort terminally ill adults suffering in agony worldwide‚” Compassion & Choices President Barbara Coombs Lee said.

Sarah Wootton‚ Chief Executive of Dignity in Dying in the United Kingdom‚ said: “We urge political and religious leaders around the world to take heed of Archbishop Tutu’s words‚ namely to ensure that terminally ill people are shown compassion and their choices supported.”

Aid-in-dying bills are under consideration in the District of Columbia‚ and New Jersey in the United States. Dignity in Dying has supported legislation for the United Kingdom‚ which is modelled after the Oregon Death with Dignity Act‚ and continues to campaign for a change in the law to allow assisted dying for terminally ill‚ mentally capable adults.

The controversial subject has long been debated in South Africa‚ with a committee of the South African Law Commission appointed to look into issues surrounding assisted death in 1998.

In 2010‚ Cape Town professor Sean Davidson‚ was detained for five months under house arrest in New Zealand‚ after pleading guilty to assisting his 85-year-old mother to “die in dignity”.

In May last year‚ Judge Hans Fabricius gave a groundbreaking ruling in the High Court in Pretoria after an application by Cape Town advocate Robert Stransham-Ford‚ allowing him to be assisted by a physician to die.

The ruling stated that while no doctor would be obliged to assist Stransham-Ford‚ any doctor who did would not be subject to prosecution. Stransham-Ford died hours before the ruling and the Department of Health has appealed against the ruling.

The Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) will hear the appeal in November.

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