(Photo: AP Photo: / PA Wire, David Parry)
Stephen Hawking, the British cosmologist who has been revered as one of the greatest thinkers of our time, has come out and publically endorsed the right for people who are terminally ill to choose how and when their life ends while implicitly stating there should be safeguards in place for those who make that decision.
The debate over assisted suicide has been a point of contention between those advocating to ending a person's pain a suffering and those dedicated to protecting all life.
Hawking, who was diagnosed with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS at age 21 and told he had only a few years to live, has been in a wheelchair for most of his life and has long foregone the ability to speak without a computer. The 71-year-old is still one of the world's leading scientists and best known authors with his international bestseller "A Brief History of Time."
He made his comments before the release of a documentary about his life this week, with Hawking insisting he is backing the right to die, but only if the person involved had chosen that without outside influence.
He gave an example of his own experience of how he was once place on life support machine after a severe case of pneumonia and his wife was given the option of continuing care. He revealed that it was not something that he wanted and went on to make a full recovery.
"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 told the BBC.
The cosmologist did, however, maintain that the choice should be left to the individual without influence and pressure from others.
"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."