Johannesburg - Anglican Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu on Sunday said he supported assisted dying for the terminally ill, the day after the Church's former leader backed a bill to legalise it in Britain.
But the Church remains officially opposed to the legislation and has called for a public inquiry into the issue.
Writing in Britain's Observer newspaper, Tutu explained that he had been convinced by the case of Craig Schonegevel, a 28-year-old South African who suffered from neurofibromatosis and ended up killing himself 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,” said the Nobel Peace laureate.
“That was not the case for Craig Schonegevel. 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?”
He revealed that he had asked his family not to prolong his life artificially, and slammed the treatment of former president Nelson Mandela 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.”
Former archbishop of Canterbury George Carey on Saturday said he had changed his mind and would support a British bill to allow assisted suicide in certain cases.
The current Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has called the bill “mistaken and dangerous”.
But Carey, 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.
The former cleric, 78, 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.
It 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 added.
The Church of England on Sunday called for an Royal Commission - a major public inquiry - to be held on the issue. - Sapa-AFP