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Anti-apartheid activist Tutu wants choice of assisted death

South African anti-apartheid activist Desmond Tutu said he'd prefer assisted suicide if his health continued to deteriorate. President Zuma and the last apartheid leader Klerk led tributes to Tutu on his 85th birthday.

Retired South African cleric and anti-apartheid activist Archbishop Desmond Tutu turned 85 on Friday. Fondly referred to as the "Arch," Tutu has been battling with ill health since last year.

In an op-ed published in The Washington Post, Tutu said he would like to be allowed the option of dignified assisted death.

"Today, I myself am even closer to the departures hall than arrivals, so to speak, and my thoughts turn to how I would like to be treated when the time comes," Tutu wrote.

"I have prepared for my death and have made it clear that I do not wish to be kept alive at all costs," he said. "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."

The first black Archbishop of Cape Town has been hospitalized on several occasions since last year for a recurring infection.

Voluntary euthanasia or assisted suicide is illegal in South Africa, but there have been calls for it to be legalized in recent years.

"Now more than ever, I feel compelled to lend my voice to this cause," Tutu said. "For those suffering unbearably and coming to the end of their lives, merely knowing that an assisted death is open to them can provide immeasurable comfort."

Bildergalerie Nelson Mandela (Walter Dhladhla/AFP/Getty Images)

Tutu was one of the key figures in the fight against apartheid while Nelson Mandela was in prison

Inspiring an nation

South African President Jacob Zuma and the last apartheid leader F.W. de Klerk paid glowing tributes to Tutu on his 85th birthday.

In a statement Zuma said Tutu "has contributed immensely to the freedom and democratic dispensation" of South Africa.

"He continues to inspire the nation and the world in the promotion of human rights, justice and the well-being of all, especially the poor," said Zuma.

De Klerk and his foundation wished Tutu "the best of health in the year ahead," and acknowledged "his valuable role as a peacemaker, as well as his contribution towards goodwill between all South Africans, and towards South Africa's constitutional democracy."

Earlier on Friday, Desmond Tutu presided over a church service in Cape Town.

"I have indicated that when the time comes, I would like to rest here, permanently, with you," he told the worshippers.

Tutu became the archbishop in 1986 and used his position to call for international sanctions against the white-minority apartheid rule in his country.

Tutu, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984, retired from public life in 2010 but remains a prominent voice in South Africa.

shs/msh (AFP, AP)

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