Stephen Hawking Flip On Assisted Suicide Divides Right-to-Die Movement

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"But just because you have the right to do it, there should be safeguards against a spontaneous and rash decision," she said. "The most important safeguard is open and transparent conservations so that a decision can be explored."

Stephen Drake, a research analyst for the disability rights group Not Dead Yet, said he worries that Hawking's flip will resonate among those who are pushing for wider legal acceptance of euthanasia as in countries like the Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland.

Drake wrote a response to the Hawking interview on the Not Dead Yet website, "proving that being a genius in one area doesn't stop you from staying stupid stuff outside of that area."

Drake expressed concern that the "euthanasia movement" may use Hawking "as a weapon" by saying, "Look at this brilliant disabled genius. His voice counts for more than all of the disability activists who have spoken in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom."

Drake also took issue with Hawking's comparison of animal suffering to human pain.

"That is a common remark in favor of assisted suicide," he said. "In fact, it's a myth. First, it ignores all the reality of factory farming and what we do to obtain meat. Those are anything but humane conditions."

If laws treated humans like animals, that could open the door to more abuse against the sick and disabled, Drake said, adding that right-to-die laws that are "sold on the idea of pain and suffering" are "bad public policy."

"The reasons are things like loss of physical autonomy, fear of being a burden and loss of dignity," he said. "These are not medical issues, they are complex social issues."

However, both Drake and Combs Lee have shared common ground on a high-profile case that has made national headlines in recent weeks.

Barbara Mancini, a Philadelphia nurse, is being charged with assisting in the suicide of her 93-year-old father and on Tuesday made an appeal to have her case dismissed.

The 57-year-old nurse is accused of giving her ailing father, Joseph Yourshaw, a lethal dose of morphine to hasten his death. She's charged with "recklessly endangering another person" and "aiding suicide," according to the criminal complaint.

The case hinges on whether Mancini gave her father the morphine to help relieve his pain, as she claims, or to help him commit suicide. A hospice nurse at his home in Pottsville, Pa., reported her to the police.

Yourshaw reportedly was taking prescribed morphine for a variety of painful illnesses: end-stage diabetes, heart and cardiovascular disease, stroke, kidney disease and arthritis. The state must prove that Mancini intended to help her father die.

"At worst, she has been accused of giving her father his own prescription medicine that he wanted to take," said Drake. "Under the rules of hospice, it was to relieve his pain. I don't see how that goes to assisted suicide and it perpetuates the myth that assisted suicide happens in hospice."

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