Stephen Hawking knows a thing or two about terminal decisions. When he was diagnosed with a motor neuron disease at the age of 21 he was informed that he would only have a couple years to live. That couple years turned into fifty years, and in that time he has changed the human perspective on the entire universe through his well-known book A Brief History of Time and his other various work on black holes, event horizons, wormholes, and any other cosmology related subject in between.
It was his choice to fight through this terminal diagnoses with grace, humor, and intelligence and he has recently revealed that he believes that each person should have the freedom to choose if they live or die. More specifically, that a terminally diagnosed patient should be able to elect for assisted suicide if undertaken in a safe manner.
“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,” Hawking told the BBC. This debate has long been a battleground in the United States since the heyday of Jack Kervorkian was arrested for performing euthanasia, the technical term for assisted suicide. The subject remained popular for so long that it was even made into an HBO movie starring Al Pacino (who is not exactly a B-list actor).
The reason that Hawking’s claim, and support, is so interesting, right now, is the fact that a little over twenty years ago he came out publicly against assisted suicide calling it “a great mistake” when being interviewed about his late wife Jane’s condition on life support. Twenty years is obviously a long time for a mind as terrific as Hawking’s to ponder such a subject and it appears that he has reached new conclusions.
Hawking is not delving too deeply, at least publicly, about the moral and religious implications on the individual for electing to be assisted in their removal from physical life, but is, moreover, making these statements in an effort to prevent prosecution of physicians and health professionals that facilitate assisted suicide. One of the great aspects of the human mind is that throughout the mind’s development and experiences, it can understand things on a larger and more grandiose scale as time elapses. Most staunch opponents of assisted suicide, the death penalty, and the like, are actually personally opposed to these actions and ideas. They may feel that they are viewing these things in a macro fashion, but it really boils down to their own selfish personal wishes and desires that they are not willing to let go.
If someone really believed that assisted suicide was in contrast to supporting someone’s right to life, then why don’t they discuss the subject of pain? The rights to life supporters are commonly associated with a strict religious congregation and act accordingly with their anticipation of their heavenly father’s judgment. If someone is in pain every second of every day, and they say that they no longer wish to be alive that is their right as a human organism. A person that believes otherwise is not a “child of Christ’s love,” but a sadist who supports cycles of torture on another living member of their species. That is what Stephen Hawking came to realize, and hopefully what his words will inspire other citizens to discover.
Written by Michael Blain