Stephen Hawking Backs Right To Die For Terminally Ill
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Diagnosed with a motor neuron disease at 21 and told he had just a few years to live, Hawking has beaten the odds and will turn 71 in January. In the past, Hawking has been vague on the notion of assisted suicide, and even in the recent BBC interview made sure to point out that “while there’s life, there’s hope.”
The conversation with the British news agency was held just ahead of the release of a documentary about his life that is scheduled to air later this week. The Cambridge University professor said he supported the right to die but added the caveat that there should be safeguards in place to prevent mistakes or abuse.
“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 said. “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.”
In 1985, Hawking contracted pneumonia while visiting CERN in Geneva, Switzerland. The illness forced medical doctors to place him on a life support machine and gave his wife the option of switching it off. However, Hawking said he’s always wanted to live.
Switzerland and several US states allow forms of euthanasia or assisted suicide under certain conditions. In Hawking’s native country, Great Britain, any kind of assisted suicide is currently illegal.
The professor pointed out that assisted suicide could be used to eliminate suffering – something we have a hard time tolerating when it comes to other species.
“We don’t let animals suffer, so why humans?” he asked.
In the interview, Hawking also commented on his numerous television appearances, which include cameos on “The Simpsons” and “Star Trek.” He said his sense of humor, along with an active mind, is the key to his survival and well-being.
Hawking’s progressive condition means that he has lost more and more motor control throughout the years. He currently communicates by manipulating a cheek muscle, the movements of which are detected by a sensor on his glasses and sent to a tablet computer on his wheelchair that includes a speech synthesizer. Hawking noted that he is able to perform any task that an able-bodied person can on a tablet computer.
The professor even suggested that his sometimes isolating condition and troubles with communicating have allowed him to focus more on his life’s work – understanding the universe – and could even be an advantage in his field.
“I must admit I do tend to drift off to thinking about physics or black holes when I get left behind in the conversation,” he said.
“(My condition) has freed me from teaching or sitting on boring committees and given me more time to think and do research,” he added. “Theoretical physics is one field where being disabled is not a handicap. It is all in the mind.”