Stephen Hawking: ‘I would consider assisted suicide’

Stephen Hawking (Reuters / Toby Melville)
Professor Stephen Hawking has admitted he would consider assisted suicide if he felt he had nothing more to contribute to the world and was a burden on his family.

The globally renowned physicist said keeping a person alive against their wishes is the “ultimate indignity.”

His comments come days after the Scottish Parliament rejected a bill to legalize assisted suicide in a free vote.

Legal critics said the legislation lacked clarity, while other opponents argued against the motion on moral grounds.

Hawking, 73, made the revelations in a forthcoming interview with Irish comedian Dara O’Briain to be broadcast on BBC One.

The scientist said: “To keep someone alive against their wishes is the ultimate indignity.”

I would consider assisted suicide only if I were in great pain or felt I had nothing more to contribute but was just a burden to those around me.”

But I’m damned if I’m going to die before I have unraveled more of the universe,” he added.

In 2013, Hawking joined the debate on assisted suicide, saying: “We don’t let animals suffer, so why humans?

Speaking to O’Briain, he said that assisted dying must be protected from abuse.

There must be safeguards that the person concerned genuinely wants to end their life and they are not being pressurized into it, or have it done without their knowledge or consent, as would have been the case with me.”

The world-renowned cosmologist was diagnosed with a rare motor neuron disease when he was 21 and told he had just two or three years to live.

Only 5 percent of people with Hawking’s condition survive for more than a decade after diagnosis.

Hawking’s comments have been made public days after members of the Scottish parliament (MSPs) in Holyrood rejected a bill to legalize assisted suicide in Scotland.

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Some 82 MSPs voted against the legislation, while 36 voted in favor and 9 did not vote.

Given the highly sensitive nature of the bill, MSPs were allowed to vote according to their consciences.

The legislation was originally introduced by the late independent MSP Margo MacDonald, who died from Parkinson’s disease last year.

The Law Society of Scotland opposed the bill on the grounds that it lacked clarity.

Alison Birtton, convener of the Law Society’s health and medical committee, said: “We remain concerned over the lack of definition of the key terms, such as ‘assistance’ and ‘life-shortening’ and the functions of the licensed facilitator are still uncertain.”

Lack of such clarity leads to ambiguity and leaves the legislation open to interpretation.”

A parliamentary committee concluded that the bill contained “significant flaws.”

Religious groups, including the Church of Scotland, the Council of Imams and the Christian charity Care for Scotland, opposed the legislation on moral grounds.

Last month, British businessman Jeffrey Spector, 54, came to national attention when he chose to end his life at the Swiss suicide clinic Dignitas against the wishes of his family.

Spector was diagnosed with an inoperable tumor on his spine six years ago that could have led to him being paralyzed from the neck down.

Quoted by the Daily Mirror, Spector said: “It had to be a settled decision by a sound mind. If I am paralyzed and cannot speak, what hope is there?

Dignitas has since come under scrutiny after reports that the assisted dying clinic employed a British psychiatrist who was banned from working in the UK due to professional misconduct.

Within Europe, suicide is legal in Switzerland, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. In the United States, Oregon, Montana, Washington and Vermont allow assisted dying for terminally ill and mentally competent adults.