When a patient’s mental capabilities are deteriorating rapidly and cannot be restored, when they are losing bodily functions and the degeneration cannot be stopped, or when they are constantly in excruciating pain, should we not be able to help through assisted death?
This is the argument for assisted death; people who are being tortured by their own failing bodies should be allowed to escape it.
It is an argument that South Africa’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu came out in favor of in 2014. The Nobel Peace Prize laureate and anti-apartheid campaigner supported assisted death for the terminally ill.
On Friday, Archbishop Desmond Tutu celebrated his 85th birthday. He had finally been discharged from the hospital last month after surgery to treat recurring infections.
In an article that he wrote in the Washington Post newspaper, Archbishop Desmond Tutu said that he did “not wish to be kept alive at all costs”.
He revealed that he wants to have the option of assisted death for himself. When he came out in support of it in 2014, he had not specified if he personally wanted to have a choice, but in the Washing Post article, he wrote:
“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,”
“Regardless of what you might choose for yourself, why should you deny others the right to make this choice?”
“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.”
South Africa does not yet have any specific legislation that governs assisted death, but a landmark ruling in April 2015 saw a South African court granting a terminally ill man the right to die, prompting calls for a clarification of the laws in cases of assisted death.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s stance is decidedly against that of the Anglican church of which he is a part. The Anglican church is very much against assisted dying.
Considering Archbishop Tutu is a very vocal supporter of gay rights and did in the mid-90s support an amendment to make abortion more readily available in South Africa, this is not the first time his views differ from those of the church.
It is left to see if Archbishop Tutu’s remarks will push the South African government into crafting clear legislation on assisted dying. It is, after all, a morally hazy issue with very strong arguments on either side of the pond.
People who oppose assisted dying argue that society has a moral duty to protect and to preserve all life and that to devalue one life is to devalue all lives.