Debate on legality of assisted suicide heats up

MAY 5, 2015

The debate over the legality of euthanasia – or assisted suicide in order to relieve pain and suffering, in South Africa looks set for the Constitutional Court after the Departments of Justice, Health and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) have announced plans to challenge Judge Hans Fabricius’ decision to grant a terminally ill cancer patient, Robin Stransham-Ford, the right to die.

Judge Fabricius last week ruled that Stransham-Ford, who was an advocate, had the right to end his life with the help of a doctor. The Judge, however, said his decision related only to this particular case.

But the NPA and the Health Minister, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, argue the ruling could result in many people applying for euthanasia. The NPA and Motsoaledi say last week’s ruling not only contravenes the right to life entrenched in our constitution, but also compromises doctors' ethics.

“Doctors signed a Hippocratic oath which talks about life, life, and life. I won't give up to allow another arm of government to change the ethics and direction of doctors in the way that ruling is going to," said Minister Motsoaledi.

Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Michael Masutha, also said that his department is opposing assisted suicide simply because no one under the Constitution of South African has got a right to kill another person.

However, Judge Fabricius is not prepared to withdraw his judgment – even after it emerged that Stransham-Ford had died on the day of the ruling.

“As I handed down the ruling on the 30th of April, the applicant had died that morning shortly after 8 apparently, I certainly didn't know that and nor did counsel. The result is that the application that I recall my order in terms of rule 42 is not granted," maintains Fabricius.

Meanwhile, Board member from the 'Right-to-Die' organisation, Dignity SA, Professor Willem Landman, believes that as much as people have got a right to abort, people who suffer terminally should also be allowed to get to exercise their rights fully.

Landman says people should be allowed to choose whether they want to be helped with assisted suicide.

The departments have 14 days to appeal the matter.

Stransham-Ford (65) had terminal prostate cancer and had approached the Pretoria High Court to allow him to commit assisted suicide so that he can die with dignity.