Experts: Life support can last for years

2013-06-30 10:00

As reports emerged this week that former president Nelson Mandela was on life support, South Africans were asking: Who decides to switch off the machines?

Machines that can keep patients alive include ventilators for breathing, dialysis machines that help to clean failing kidneys and remove waste products from the blood, and advanced heart-support machines.

A patient could remain on life support for years, depending on their condition, say medical law experts.

Bioethicist Professor Sylvester Chima of the University of KwaZulu-Natal said the decision to keep a patient on life support “is usually made after considering issues of scarcity of resources, the best interests of the patient, medical futility, and chances of recovery and quality of life after recovery”.

Keymanthri Moodley, associate professor at the Centre for Medical Ethics and Law at Stellenbosch University, said the patient could have a “living will”, which makes their desires known, but if there is none, “the family and doctors discuss the situation and take a joint decision”.

Chima said: “The primary person with the responsibility for switching off a life-support machine is the spouse, followed by children and siblings.

“But in the case of a cultural and global icon such as Mandela, such a decision is not easy. The family, cultural elders and doctors will have to sit down and have a care conference. This group will try to make a joint decision after discussing all relevant issues,” Chima said.

Phathekile Holomisa, leader of the Congress of Traditional Leaders of SA, said: “In our culture, nobody decides to take the person’s life. The matter is left to our ancestors.”

Holomisa added that Madiba’s current medical condition could be connected to his ancestors, who are not pleased with the manner in which Mandla Mandela exhumed the remains of Madiba’s children.

“The moving of graves is a very ­serious matter because one can’t ­simply be moving graves around. It ­upsets the spirits of those people.”

He did not want to be drawn into the matter of the removal of the Mandela graves, but said a simple AbaThembu ritual would be followed.

Elders will speak to the ancestors and inform them that they are being “disturbed again”. A cow will probably have to be slaughtered.

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
0 comments
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

 
/News

Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.




Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.