Renowned scientist Stephen Hawking recently announced that he "briefly tried to commit suicide" and argued that denying an individual who is suffering the right to commit suicide is "discrimination."
The 72 year old, who is a self-proclaimed atheist, made his comments in response to religious leaders in Britain's assertions that legalizing assisted suicide would be a "grave error" as the House of Lords in Parliament debated the Assisted Dying Bill.
"If you have a terminal illness and you're in great pain, I think you have the right to choose to end your life. We don't let animals suffer, so why should your pain be prolonged against your wishes," the cosmologist said in a BBC interview.
"I think everyone should have the right to choose to end their life whether they are capable of doing so without assistance or not. It is a discrimination against the disabled to deny them the right to kill themselves that able-bodied people have," he continued.
According to BBC, Lord Falconer has led the campaign for the proposed the legislation, which would allow doctors to prescribe a lethal dose to terminally ill patients judged to have less than six months to live.
Making the case for his bill, Lord Falconer insisted that the "final decision must always be made by the patient", with safeguards to prevent "abuse"
Hawking, who is wheelchair bound, agreed, but noted that those considering assisted suicide should be required to show proof from a doctor that they are in great pain, and should also wait two weeks in case they change their mind.
"I think it would be wrong to despair and commit suicide unless one is in great pain, but that is a matter of choice. We should not take away the freedom of the individual to choose to die," said Hawking.
"There has to be safeguards that a person genuinely wants to die and are not being pressurized into it. These safeguards are a matter of discussion. I would suggest as a minimum that two doctors should certify that a person is in pain and has a life expectancy of less than a year. I would also suggest that a person be given two weeks to reconsider her decision to die," he explained.
The scientist also commented that he was given two or three years to live in his early 20s and felt he should have had the option to end his life if he chose to do so.
"That is a decision the individual has to make. It is wrong for the law to take away the option. I admit that when I had my tracheostomy operation, I briefly tried to commit suicide by not breathing. However, the reflex to breathe was too strong," he confessed.
According to the Catholic Herald, many religious leaders are currently campaigning against the bill, including Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster and Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury and 21 other of the most senior Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Zoroastrian and Jain leaders.
"This is not the way forward for a compassionate and caring society," the faith leaders wrote in a letter, signed also by Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis of the United Hebrew Congregation of the Commonwealth and Dr Shuja Shafi, secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain.
"While we may have come to the position of opposing this bill from different religious perspectives, we are agreed that the Assisted Dying Bill invites the prospect of an erosion of carefully tuned values and practices that are essential for the future development of a society that respects and cares for all."