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S Africa's Tutu backs assisted dying

Former archbishop says terminally ill should be afforded dignity of choice as UK gears up to discuss bill.

Last updated: 13 Jul 2014 15:01
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Writing in the Observer, Tutu said he had asked his family not to prolong his life artificially [AP]

South Africa's Anglican Archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu says he supports assisted dying for the terminally ill.

Writing in Britain's Observer newspaper on Sunday, Tutu explained that he had been convinced the humans had the right to decide on their own fate, after a 28-year-old terminally ill South African took his own life because doctors were unable to end his life.

"Some people opine that with good palliative care there is no need for assisted dying, no need for people to request to be legally given a lethal dose of medication," Tutu, a Nobel Peace laureate, said.

"That was not the case for Craig Schonegevel [the 28-year-old South African]. Others assert their right to autonomy and consciousness - why exit in the fog of sedation when there's the alternative of being alert and truly present with loved ones?"

Tutu's comments come a day after the Anglican Church's former leader backed a bill to legalise it in Britain.

George Carey, the former archbishop of Canterbury, said on Saturday he had changed his mind and would support a British bill to allow assisted suicide in certain cases.

'Changed my mind'

Carey, 78, who now sits in the House of Lords [parliament's upper chamber] after leaving office as the spiritual leader of the world's Anglicans in 2002, told the Daily Mail that he had dropped his long-standing opposition.

"The fact is I've changed my mind," he wrote in a piece for the British newspaper.

"The old philosophical certainties have collapsed in the face of the reality of needless suffering," he explained.

Carey said he would support the bill, brought by Lord Charles Falconer, which would allow mentally capable adults to request help to die if they were suffering from a terminal illness and had less than six months to live

But the Church remains officially opposed to the legislation and has called for a public inquiry into the issue.

The case of Mandela

Writing in the Observer, Tutu said that he had asked his family not to prolong his life artificially, and criticised the treatment of Nelson Mandela, South Africa's anti-apartheid icon, during his final days.

"What was done to Madiba was disgraceful," he wrote. "You could see that Madiba was not fully there. My friend was no longer himself. It was an affront to Madiba's dignity."

"I have been fortunate to spend my life working for dignity for the living. Now I wish to apply my mind to the issue of dignity for the dying," Tutu wrote.

The bill is due to be debated in the House of Lords next week.

On Tutu's comments, Falconer told the Observer he was "really glad that someone of his stature is taking part in this important debate."

"I very much hope that it will indicate that religion is not a bar to supporting this bill," he said.

The Church of England on Sunday called for an Royal Commission - a major public inquiry - to be held on the issue.

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