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Cape Town - The professor leading the campaign to allow legal assisted dying has praised Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu for identifying the dilemma as “a human rights issue”.
Tutu wrote an opinion piece on assisted dying in the British Observer newspaper on Saturday before a House of Lords debate on the matter to be held on Friday.
Tutu wrote that he had realised he did not want his own life to be artificially prolonged.
“I think when you need machines to help you breathe, then you have to ask questions about the quality of life being experienced and about the way money is being spent. This may be hard for some people to consider.”
“It’s taken a man of Tutu’s esteem for people to stop and listen,” said Dr Sean Davison, professor of biotechnology and head of the forensic DNA laboratory at the University of the Western Cape, and the man who was arrested in New Zealand in 2010 on an attempted murder charge.
In a leaked book manuscript, he admitted to giving his terminally ill mother, Patricia Ferguson, 85, a lethal dose of morphine. During his high court jury trial Davison was cleared of attempted murder after agreeing to a lesser charge of assisted suicide, for which he was sentenced to five months’ house arrest.
“Assisted dying is happening every day all over the world – it’s a fact of life that people are in the same position as I was in,” he told the Cape Argus on Monday.
“But at the moment it’s very hush-hush, it’s not talked about. And it often ruins their lives, because of the guilt they end up living with. People don’t realise how common it is, and how right it is to help end a loved one’s suffering.”
Davison’s campaign, Dignity SA, hopes to effect law changes to legalise the practice within five years, and is following the strategy set by the UK and four states in the US to do so.
“We have begun by urging the public to embrace this discussion, to get a groundswell of support, before pushing for a change in the law,” Davison said. He stressed this would permit “assisted dying – not assisted suicide; a person needs to be terminally ill”.
In the meantime, he reported: “I’m getting requests all the time, from people from all religions, asking to for advice, looking for answers within the context of their religion.
“We have complex religious dynamics in this country, and yet I’m amazed by how many are embracing this discussion. The past weekend, at the Gatesville mosque, I was invited to speak at a symposium on euthanasia.”
But not everyone agrees.
The African Christian Democratic Party charged: “In his desire to be in the limelight it would appear that he (Tutu) has become a friend of the enemy instead of a friend of God.
“It is our opinion that should Jesus Christ have been on the Earth today He would have greeted him with the same disdain that He treated the Pharisees of His day by calling him a ‘hypocrite’, ‘whited sepulchre’ and ‘a son of Satan’,” said party leader Theunis Botha.
“To his support for abortion and same-sex marriage, Bishop Tutu now adds euthanasia (suicide) on the list of things he supports that are totally contrary to the Word of God,” said Botha.
The Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation could not immediately comment on Botha’s statement.
Tutu said these were his personal beliefs, and not those of his church.