British cosmologist Hawking backs right to assisted suicide
LONDON (Reuters) - British cosmologist Stephen Hawking has backed the right for people who are terminally ill to choose to end their lives and to receive help to do so as long as safeguards are in place.
The wheelchair-bound Hawking was diagnosed with motor neurone disease aged 21 and told he had two to three years to live. Now 71, he is one of the world's leading scientists, known especially for his work on black holes and as author of the international bestseller "A Brief History of Time".
Speaking ahead of the release of a documentary about his life this week, Hawking said he backed the right to die but only if the person involved had chosen that route.
He recalled how he was once put on a life support machine after suffering pneumonia and his wife was given the option of switching off the machine but this is not something he wanted.
"I think those who have a terminal illness and are in great pain should have the right to choose to end their lives, and those who help them should be free from prosecution," Hawking told the BBC.
"There must be safeguards that the person concerned genuinely wants to end their life and are not being pressurized into it or have it done without their knowledge and consent as would have been the case with me."
Assisted suicide is illegal in Britain and the issue of whether or not to decriminalize it for people whose lives are unbearable is a matter of debate in many countries.
Right-to-die advocates say people capable of making that decision should be allowed to die with dignity. Opponents say liberalizing the law could leave vulnerable people at risk.
Switzerland and several U.S. states are among places where some forms of euthanasia or assisted suicide are legal under certain circumstances. Continued...