ARCHBISHOP Desmond Tutu has condemned prolonging the life of his close friend Nelson Mandela as “disgraceful”, ahead of a debate in the House of Lords on assisted dying.
The 82-year-old retired Anglican Archbishop of South Africa says legislation designed to prevent individuals from being helped to end their own lives are an affront to the patient and their families.
His intervention comes at the start of a significant week in the right-to-die debate, this week peers in the House of Lords will debate an assisted dying bill proposed by Lord Falconer.
A record number of peers, 110 so far – have registered to speak.
There was bitter controversy in South Africa in April last year when president Jacob Zuma and other politicians from the African National Congress visited Mr Mandela at his home with a TV crew.
The statesman looked weak, rheumy-eyed and uncomprehending. Mr Mandela’s family and personal assistant condemned the publicity stunt as exploitative and in poor taste.
Mr Tutu said: “What was done to Madiba was disgraceful. There was that occasion when Madiba was televised with political leaders, president Zuma and Cyril Ramaphosa.
“You could see that Madiba was not fully there. He did not speak. He was not connecting. My friend was no longer himself. It was an affront to Madiba’s dignity.”
Tutu notes that Lord Falconer’s bill will be debated on Mandela Day, which would have been the 96th birthday of South Africa’s first black president. He calls for his own country to follow Britain’s lead in examining a change in the law.
He added: “On Mandela Day we will be thinking of a great man. On the same day, on 18 July 2014 in London, the House of Lords will be holding a second hearing on Lord Falconer’s bill on assisted dying.
“Oregon, Washington, Quebec, Holland, Switzerland have already taken this step.
“South Africa has a hard-won constitution that we are proud of that should provide a basis to guide changes to be made on the legal status of end-of-life wishes to support the dignity of the dying.
“People should die a decent death. For me that means having had the conversations with those I have crossed with in life and being at peace.
“It means being able to say goodbye to loved ones – if possible, at home.”
“I can see I would probably incline towards the quality of life argument, whereas others will be more comfortable with palliative care.
“Yes, I think a lot of people would be upset if I said I wanted assisted dying. I would say I wouldn’t mind, actually.”
His comments follow a U-turn by former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey, who also said he would support assisted dying for the terminally ill. The Church of England has now called for an inquiry into the issue.
Lord Falconer’s proposed legislation would make it legal for a doctor to hand over lethal medication to a terminally ill patient who is believed to have less than six months to live. Lord Falconer claimed that the intervention by Tutu illustrated that religious faith should be no obstacle to supporting a change in the law.
He said: “I am really glad.
“For someone of Archbishop Tutu’s stature, understanding and human experience to speak out is really welcome.
“He is an Anglican bishop who has shown his moral strength to the world better than anybody. I very much hope that it will indicate that religion is not a bar to supporting this bill.”