Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu shed tears of gratitude on his 85th birthday Friday as he presided over a cathedral Mass despite his poor health. And in a newspaper column, the former archbishop said he would like to have the option of a “dignified assisted death” when the time comes.
Tutu was brought into St. George’s Cathedral in a wheelchair but was later helped to his feet in church robes, a crucifix around his neck, for the Anglican ceremony. He wiped away tears and gave thanks at the sight of friends and well-wishers in the congregation.
“I am just trying to draw attention to myself,” an emotional Tutu said with trademark humour, drawing laughter. He was comforted by another priest and his daughter, Mpho Tutu van Furth.
Tutu, an anti-apartheid campaigner who spoke on human rights long after the 1994 end of white minority rule in South Africa, has been hospitalized several times since last year because of infections linked to past treatment for prostate cancer.
He has been treated for the cancer for many years, and his family previously said the disease was under control.
In a column in The Washington Post, Tutu said he believed in the “sanctity of life” but also reiterated his support for “assisted dying” for terminally ill people who seek that option.
“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,” Tutu wrote.
He said he supported initiatives for assisted dying laws in Britain, the United States, South Africa and elsewhere.
“In refusing dying people the right to die with dignity, we fail to demonstrate the compassion that lies at the heart of Christian values,” Tutu wrote. “I pray that politicians, lawmakers and religious leaders have the courage to support the choices terminally ill citizens make in departing Mother Earth. The time to act is now.”
Tutu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his peaceful campaign against apartheid. His birthday this year fell on the same day that Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos was awarded the prize for efforts to end war in his country.
South African President Jacob Zuma said Tutu made big contributions to freedom and democracy in South Africa.
“He continues to inspire the nation and the world in the promotion of human rights, justice and the wellbeing of all, especially the poor,” Zuma said.
Torchia reported from Johannesburg.