London: Famed UK physicist Stephen Hawking, who himself is battling a crippling motor neuron disease, has publicly backed the idea of assisted suicide for people with terminal illnesses.
"We don`t let animals suffer, so why humans?" Hawking said in an interview with the BBC.
"I think those who have a terminal illness and are in great pain should have the right to choose to end their lives, and those who help them should be free from prosecution," said Hawking.
Seventy-one-year-old Hawking suffers from progressive condition motor neurone disease.
When he was diagnosed with the disease at the age of 21, doctors gave him just three years to live.
He has been less candid about the idea of assisted suicides in the past, saying "there is always hope".
Hawking was once put on a life support machine and his wife was given the option of switching it off.
When he was asked if family members of those who wish to die should be able to assist without fear of prosecution, Hawking replied in affirmative.
However, he stressed that there must be safeguards to prevent abuse.
Hawking has a motor neuron disease related to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a condition that has progressed over the years.
Born on January 8, 1942, Hawking is almost entirely paralysed and communicates through a speech generating device. He married twice and has three children.