Arch backs world­wide cam­paign for the right to choose when to die

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ARCH­BISHOP Emer­i­tus Des­mond Tutu has thrown his moral weight be­hind a cam­paign to change the law so peo­ple can choose when to die.

The cam­paign’s aim will be to “bring the is­sue of death and dy­ing to the world stage”, right-to-die cam­paigner Sean Dav­i­son told the Sun­day Times yes­ter­day.

He said Tutu had agreed to work with Dig­nity SA, led by Dav­i­son, and the World Fed­er­a­tion of Right to Die So­ci­eties, which will hold its 2018 con­fer­ence in South Africa.

The pro­ject will ma­te­ri­alise soon and will build on the world­wide pub­lic­ity gen­er­ated by Tutu’s 85th birth­day call on Fri­day for the right to choose when and where he dies.

“This is the great­est im­pact we have had in the cam­paign,” Dav­i­son said af­ter Tutu’s re­marks in an es­say in the Wash­ing­ton Post, at St Ge­orge’s Cathe­dral in Cape Town, and in a video.

“Dy­ing peo­ple should have the right to choose how and when they leave Mother Earth,” said the arch­bishop.

It emerged yes­ter­day that Tutu has been in close con­tact with Davi the son, who spent five months un­der house ar­rest in New Zealand for as­sist­ing his el­derly mother to die.

Dig­nity SA’s le­gal war chest re­ceived a R100 000 boost on Fri­day, when an anony­mous bene­fac­tor bought a signed por­trait of Tutu as a re­sult of “the Arch’s” state­ment.

It will be used to fund the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s de­fence when the min­is­ters of jus­tice and health and the Na­tional Pros­e­cut­ing Au­thor­ity ap­peal against a judg­ment last year by the High Court in Pre­to­ria, which al­lowed ter­mi­nally ill lawyer Robin Stran­sham-Ford to end his own life.

Stran­sham-Ford, who had cancer, died two hours be­fore the judg­ment was de­liv­ered. The state is ap­peal­ing on prin­ci­ple.

The case goes to the ap­peal court on Novem­ber 4, and right-to-die lawyer Sally Bui­tendag said she was con­fi­dent of vic­tory.

“What­ever the out­come, this case will end up in the Con­sti­tu­tional Court,” she said.

Look­ing frail, Tutu cel­e­brated his birth­day at St Ge­orge’s Cathe­dral on Fri­day. Later, he ar­rived in a wheel­chair at a lecture in his honour at Artscape in Cape Town.

Tutu’s in­ter­est in as­sisted dy­ing was sparked by Univer­sity of Western Cape lec­turer Dav­i­son’s ar­rest in New Zealand for as­sist­ing his cancer-rid­den mother to end her life in 2006.

He sup­ported Dav­i­son and begged au­thor­i­ties for le­niency. “He wrote to the courts in New Zealand to re­quest that I be al­lowed to re­turn to South Africa on bail un­til the be­gin­ning of my trial,” Dav­i­son said yes­ter­day.

“When I was con­victed of as­sisted sui­cide he pleaded for a le­nient sen­tence for me.

“At that time he ac­knowl­edged he hadn’t thought a lot about . . . as­sisted dy­ing but he knew I acted out of com­pas­sion and he knew how much my mother was suf­fer­ing.

“I ar­rived back from New Zealand, we talked for an hour and af­ter that hour he stood up and said: ‘I’m just so over­whelmed by what you told me.’ From then on we con­tin­ued hav­ing a dis­cus­sion around this.”

Dav­i­son said he e-mailed Tutu soon af­ter Fri­day’s state­ment, thank­ing him for bring­ing the is­sue to the world’s at­ten­tion.

“He’s now think­ing of this is­sue in the con­text of his own life and death, which is some­thing peo­ple don’t nor­mally think about un­til they get there, which is a shame.”

Speak­ing to the cathe­dral con­gre­ga­tion on Fri­day, Tutu said: “I have pre­pared for my death and have made it clear that I do not wish to be kept alive at all costs.

“I hope I am treated with com­pas­sion and al­lowed to pass on to the next phase of life’s jour­ney in the man­ner of my choice.

“To­day, I my­self am even closer to the de­par­tures hall than ar­rivals, so to speak, and my thoughts turn to how I would like to be treated when the time comes.

“For those suf­fer­ing un­bear­ably and com­ing to the end of their lives, merely know­ing that an as­sisted death is open to them can pro­vide im­mea­sur­able com­fort.”

Tutu’s daugh­ter, the Rev Mpho Tutu van Furth, said she was right be­hind her fa­ther.

“I agree with him whole­heart­edly. I think that we all have to have a right to dig­ni­fied death and to be able to make choices around our dy­ing,” she said.

“It is not say­ing: ‘Oh my God, I am at that stage and about to die.’ I don’t think he is there yet.

“What he is say­ing is that he doesn’t want any­one tak­ing ex­tra­or­di­nary mea­sures to en­sure that he is breath­ing in and out, which is mean­ing­less in the con­text of what life means,” she said.

Angli­can Church pol­icy is against as­sisted dy­ing, an is­sue that causes deep di­vi­sions in the church.

The head of the Angli­can church in South­ern Africa, Arch­bishop Thabo Mak­goba, told the Sun­day Times in a What­sApp mes­sage sent from Rome: “We love him dearly and we will con­tinue to do so even beyond this life, for as we pro­fess, our lov­ing and com­pas­sion­ate God is God of both the liv­ing and the dead. Send­ing my love on his cel­e­bra­tion of 85 years of life from Rome.”

Out­side the church, not every­one was happy with Tutu’s stance. Vaughan Luck, spokesman for Doc­tors for Life, the or­gan­i­sa­tion that has joined hands with the state in ap­peal­ing the Stran­sham-Ford rightto-die judg­ment, lamented the cleric’s sup­port for what he dubbed “as­sisted sui­cide”.

“I can’t un­der­stand the rea­son­ing be­hind it and I com­pletely dis­agree with it,” said Luck.

“It doesn’t sit well if you think about a man of the cloth or a re­li­gious fig­ure speak­ing about death and be­ing able to kill peo­ple. It is a very weird thing that Des­mond Tutu is do­ing.”

Luck said as­sisted dy­ing could open the flood­gates for a litany of wrongs in­clud­ing the “as­sisted sui­cide of chil­dren”. He used Bel­gium as an ex­am­ple.

“It will start off with a ter­mi­nally ill pa­tient who is in ter­ri­ble pain, who doesn’t want to live any more, and you pass laws say­ing that it is OK to kill that type of a per­son or to as­sist them in their sui­cide be­cause of the pain and the fact that they are ter­mi­nally ill,” said Luck.

“You end up in a state like Bel­gium, which eu­thanised the first [17year-old] just a cou­ple of weeks ago. This child was suf­fer­ing with de­pres­sion, not cop­ing with ev­ery­thing that hap­pened to it, so they de­cided the best thing is to eu­thanise it.”

For those . . . com­ing to the end of their lives, know­ing that an as­sisted death is open to them can pro­vide com­fort I hope I am treated with com­pas­sion and al­lowed to pass on . . . in the man­ner of my choice

Pic­ture: AFP PHOTO

DIG­NITY: Re­tired Angli­can arch­bishop Des­mond Tutu cel­e­brated his 85th birth­day by jointly say­ing mass at St Ge­orge’s Cathe­dral in Cape Town this week. Dur­ing the ser­vice and in other fo­rums he weighed in on a con­tentious is­sue in his church, that of...

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