Stephen Hawking speaks out in favour of assisted suicide

71-year-old cosmologist had previously been less supportive of the right to die as 'there is always hope'

Stephen Hawking appears during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympic Games
Stephen Hawking appears during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympic Games

Scientist Professor Stephen Hawking has spoken out in favour of assisted suicide for people with terminal diseases.

Prof Hawking, who has motor neurone disease (MND), had previously been less supportive of the right to die, saying it was a mistake as "there is always hope".

In an interview which will reignite the heated debate surrounding euthanasia, the 71-year-old cosmologist told the BBC: "We don't let animals suffer, so why humans?"

He said: "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.

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

Prof Hawking was diagnosed with his disabling and incurable condition aged 21 and told that he had just two or three years to live.

Following a bout of pneumonia in 1985, he was placed on a life support machine which his first wife, Jane Hawking, had the option to switch off.

Recovering from the disease, Prof Hawking went on to complete his popular science best-seller A Brief History of Time, which sold more than 10 million copies worldwide.

Only 5% of people with the kind of MND he has - called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig's disease - survive for more than a decade after diagnosis.

Referring to euthanasia in 2006, he said: "The victim should have the right to end his life, if he wants. But I think it would be a great mistake.

"However bad life may seem, there is always something you can do, and succeed at. While there's life, there is hope."

PA

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