In an interview with Irish broadcaster Dara Ó Briain for BBC television, Hawking, 73, argues that keeping someone alive against their own wishes is the “ultimate indignity”.
The scientist, who suffers from motor neurone disease, also disclosed that he suffers bouts of loneliness because people can be afraid to talk to him or give him time to answer with the aid of his voice synthesizer.
He attacked the current law in the UK that criminalises loved ones trying to help family members die but he added: “I am damned if I’m going to die before I have unravelled more of the universe.”
Asked by Ó Briain what condition he would have to be in to consider assisted suicide for himself, he said: “To keep someone alive against their wishes is the ultimate indignity.
“I would consider assisted suicide only if I were in great pain or felt I had nothing more to contribute, but was just a burden to those around me.”
Ó Briain, a comedian and broadcaster who has a degree in theoretical physics, asked Hawking whether he ever feels lonely.
“At times I get very lonely because people are afraid to talk to me or don’t wait for me to write a response,” he said. “I’m shy and tired at times. I find it difficult to talk to people I don’t know.”
When asked what he misses, he said: “I would like to be able to swim again. When my children were young, I missed not being able to play with them physically.”
Hawking’s comments come as a major conference on euthanasia is due to take place in Dublin on Saturday. It is being viewed as a counterpoint to a bill allowing for assisted suicide which is to be introduced to the Dáil in the coming weeks.
The inaugural Hope Ireland conference will take place in the RDS and will highlight the consequences of legalised euthanasia and assisted suicide in other countries.
Speaking in advance of the conference, the director of Hope Ireland, Kevin Fitzpatrick, said the current law protected vulnerable people and saved lives.
“Those defences in law cover every citizen of Ireland and must be maintained, strengthened if possible, not overthrown,” Dr Fitzpatrick said.
“We must look to the experience of other countries and states where we can see once euthanasia and/or assisted suicide is legalised those laws are very quickly extended to people who are not terminally ill at all, most often targeting vulnerable people.”
The BBC programme on Hawking will also feature interviews with Lucy, his daughter, his youngest son Tim, and his Cambridge research students.
It will also tie in with the television premiere of The Theory of Everything, as well as Hawking’s cameo appearance in a Comic Relief sketch and a portrayal of him in The Simpsons.
Hawking exhibited some very down-to-earth knowledge and good humour recently when he was asked about the cosmological effect of former One Direction singer Zayn Malik leaving the boy band.
Speaking at the Sydney Opera House as a 3D hologram from his location at Cambridge University, he responded: “Finally, a question about something important... outside of our own universe lies a different universe and in that universe Zayn is still in One Direction.”
- The full interview will be broadcast in Dara Ó Briain meets Stephen Hawking, on BBC One on June 15.
- Details of the Hope Ireland conference can be found at hopeire.com.