Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, 85, has recorded a video saying he wants the option of assisted dying “when the time comes … to pass” and endorsing bills worldwide to authorize this end-of-life option.
Two years ago, the legendary Christian human rights leader authored an op-ed in The Guardian announcing the reversal of his lifelong opposition to assisted dying as an option for terminally ill adults to stop unbearable end-of-life suffering. But he was more ambiguous about whether he personally wanted the option: “I would say I wouldn’t mind,” wrote the Nobel Peace Prize laureate at the time.
The new video of Archbishop Tutu, the first black Archbishop of the Anglican Church of South Africa, was recorded in June for Dignity in Dying and Compassion & Choices. The two non-profit organisations are the leading national advocates for medical aid in dying as an end-of-life option in the United Kingdom and United States, respectively.
“As a Christian, I believe in the sanctity of life and that death is a part of life. I hope that when the time comes, I am treated with compassion and allowed to pass on to the next phase of life’s journey in the manner of my choice,” says Archbishop Tutu, who turned 85 today and has prostate cancer, in the video.
The video is timely because Compassion & Choices Action Fund is supporting a citizen-led referendum modelled after the Oregon Death with Dignity Act to authorize medical aid in dying that has qualified for the November ballot in Colorado. The opposition campaign is mainly funded by the Colorado Catholic Conference, including more than $1 million from the Archdiocese of Denver. The Economist recently concluded: “…the groundswell of support for Initiative 145 [now called Prop. 106], and Colorado’s demography, suggest that it stands a good chance of being passed.” Assisted dying for terminally ill adults was authorised in Canada in June 2016.
“People around the globe, of every religion, recognise Archbishop Tutu’s unquestionable moral authority. His very personal endorsement of medical aid in dying will comfort terminally ill adults suffering in agony worldwide,” said Compassion & Choices President Barbara Coombs Lee, who was an emergency room and intensive care nurse for 25 years before becoming an attorney and co-authoring the 1994 Oregon Death with Dignity Act in the annex of the First Unitarian Church in Portland, Oregon. “His endorsement is a call to authorise this end-of-life option internationally, as a matter of mercy and compassion.”
“Archbishop Tutu has fought admirably throughout his life for people to have their fundamental rights. His integrity and commitment to doing the right thing makes his support for assisted dying incredibly powerful. As he makes clear in his latest announcement, the right for terminally ill people to die with dignity in the manner and timing of their choosing should be given attention and respect” added Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive of Dignity in Dying in the United Kingdom. “We urge political and religious leaders around the world to take heed of Archbishop Tutu’s words, namely to ensure that terminally ill people are shown compassion and their choices supported.”
Aid-in-dying bills are under consideration in the District of Columbia, and New Jersey in the United States. Dignity in Dying has supported legislation for the United Kingdom, which is modelled after the Oregon Death with Dignity Act, and continues to campaign for a change in the law to allow assisted dying for terminally ill, mentally capable adults. While an Assisted Dying Bill was defeated in the UK one year ago, Archbishop Tutu is one of a number of high profile celebrities, doctors and clerics to come out in support of the campaign in the UK during the last four months.
“My friend, Lord Carey [the retired Archbishop of Canterbury], has passionately argued for an assisted-dying law in the United Kingdom,” Archbishop Tutu says in the video. “His initiative has my blessing and support as do similar initiatives in my home country, South Africa, in the United States, New Zealand and parts of the European Union, and right across the world.”
“People who are terminally ill should have the option of dignified and compassionate assisted dying, alongside the wonderful palliative care that already exists,” concludes Archbishop Tutu in the video. “I pray that politicians, lawmakers and religious leaders have the courage to support the choices terminally ill citizens make in departing Mother Earth with dignity and love.”
Dignity in Dying campaigns for greater choice, control and access to services at the end of life. It advocates providing terminally ill adults with the option of an assisted death, within strict legal safeguards, and for universal access to high quality end-of-life care. For more information, visit: www.dignityindying.org.uk
Compassion & Choices is the oldest non-profit working to improve care and expand options for the end of life in the United States, with 450,000 members nationwide. For more information, visit: CompassionAndChoices.org.