Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu. File picture: Enrico Jacobs

Johannesburg - Nobel laureate and emeritus archbishop Desmond Tutu spoke out in favour of assisted suicide on Friday, saying society should grant the terminally-ill the right to “die with dignity.”

“With my life closer to its end than its beginning, I wish to help give people dignity in dying,” Tutu wrote in a Washington Post opinion piece published on his 85th birthday.

“Just as I have argued firmly for compassion and fairness in life, I believe that terminally-ill people should be treated with the same compassion and fairness when it comes to their deaths,” Tutu wrote.

The Anglican archbishop emeritus, who received the Nobel Prize in 1984 for his struggle against the apartheid regime in South Africa, has been hospitalised several times in recent months.

“Dying people should have the right to choose how and when they leave Mother Earth,” Tutu wrote. “Why are so many instead forced to endure terrible pain and suffering against their wishes?”

“In refusing dying people the right to die with dignity, we fail to demonstrate the compassion that lies at the heart of Christian values,” Tutu wrote.

The Nobel Peace Prize laureate chaired South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission after the transition to democracy brought Nelson Mandela to power in 1994.

SAPA - dpa