South African cleric and anti-Apartheid activist Archbishop Desmond Tutu says he wants to have the choice of undergoing an assisted death when his time comes, according to Reuters. In an opinion piece published in the Washington Post, the Nobel Peace Prize winner wrote, “I have prepared for my death and have made it clear that I do not wish to be kept alive at all costs. I hope I am treated with compassion and allowed to pass on to the next phase of life’s journey in the manner of my choice.”
Although he has expressed support for legalizing assisted deaths in the past, this is the first time he has admitted to being personally in favor of it in regards to his own healthcare options.
“Two years ago, I announced the reversal of my lifelong opposition to assisted dying in an op-ed in the Guardian. But I was more ambiguous about whether I personally wanted the option, writing: ‘I would say I wouldn’t mind,’” he wrote.
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“Today, I myself am even closer to the departure halls than arrivals, so to speak, and my thoughts turn to how I would like to be treated when the time comes. Now more than ever, I feel compelled to lend my voice to this cause.”
The 85-year-old, who has been living with prostate cancer for nearly 20 years, believes that terminally ill people deserve to be respected if they opt for assisted death or suicide, commonly referred to as euthanasia.
“Regardless of what you might choose for yourself, why should you deny others the right to make this choice?” he wrote.
“I believe that terminally ill people should be treated with the same compassion and fairness when it comes to their deaths. Dying people should have the right to choose how and when they leave Mother Earth.”
He also urged those who are terminally ill to be open to the idea of assisted death as it relieves them of the struggle that comes with such a condition.
“For those suffering unbearably and coming to the end of their lives, merely knowing that an assisted death is open to them can provide immeasurable comfort,” he explained.
Tutu had surgery in August this year to treat recurring infections that have afflicted him for more than a year. In a video posted by the Washington Post, the archbishop emeritus of Cape Town called on politicians, lawmakers, and religious leaders to support the choices “terminally ill citizens make in departing Mother Earth.”
Assisted dying or euthanasia is currently considered unconstitutional in South Africa, even though the South African Law Commission proposed a draft legislation on the issue in 1998, which has yet to be passed.
However, a legal precedent was set in 2015, when the High Court in Pretoria granted lawyer Robin Stransham-Ford the right to assisted death – two hours after he died.
According to News24, this precedent is not supported by the South Africa constitutional court, however, since Hans Fabricius, the Pretorian High Court judge who granted Stransham-Ford his assisted-death wish, rejected an application by the superior court to quash his judgement. Doctors who assist dying patients in South Africa must serve a 14-year jail term.
Assisted death is currently legal in Belgium, Canada, Colombia, Germany, the Netherlands, Japan, and Switzerland, while in America, the states of California, Montana, Oregon, Washington, and Vermont have decriminalized it.