The disabled British physicist Professor Stephen Hawking has been awarded America’s highest civilian honour by the US President, Barack Obama.
Obama presented Hawking with the Presidential Medal of Freedom at a ceremony at the White House on 12 August.
He said Hawking’s work had “advanced our understanding of the universe” and that his books had “advanced the cause of science itself”.
He added: “From his wheelchair, he has led us on a journey to the farthest, strangest reaches of the cosmos.
“In so doing, he has stirred our imagination and shown us the power of the human spirit here on earth.”
Hawking was one of 16 recipients of the medal, who included the actor Sidney Poitier; the former president of Ireland, Mary Robinson; tennis legend and equality campaigner Billie Jean King; and the Nobel Peace Prize winner, Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
Obama said each of the 16 had been “an agent of change”. “Each saw an imperfect world and set about improving it, often overcoming great obstacles along the way.
“Their relentless devotion to breaking down barriers and lifting up their fellow citizens sets a standard to which we all should strive.”
Meanwhile, Hawking was reported to have hit back at comments by right-wing opponents of Obama’s healthcare reforms, who have repeatedly criticised the provision of care in Britain’s NHS, which they have described as “evil” and “Orwellian”.
One commentator suggested the NHS would not treat someone like Hawking because of his impairment and would treat him as “essentially worthless”.
But Hawking told the Guardian: “I wouldn’t be here today if it were not for the NHS.
“I have received a large amount of high quality treatment without which I would not have survived.”
13 August 2009