‘Shocked at the inhumanity’

2014-12-07 17:00

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Two siblings who are trying to sell copies of Steve Biko’s autopsy reports on auction are not just “inhumane” and “cold”, they’re violating medical ethics.

That’s according to Professor Ames Dhai, the director of the Steve Biko Centre for Bioethics at Wits University.

Dhai said although Biko’s autopsy report had been in the public domain for decades, Clive and Susan Steele were not legally allowed to “profit by selling human data obtained through a medical examination”.

The Steeles were hit with an urgent interdict this week after the Steve Biko Foundation and the Biko family went to the South Gauteng High Court to block the auction.

Westgate Walding Auctioneers planned to start the bidding on Biko’s 43-page 1977 autopsy report at R70?000.

They also aimed to auction copies of activist Ahmed Timol’s 1972 autopsy report, starting the bidding at R20?000. The Timol family joined the Bikos in halting the auction.

The Steeles, through their lawyer Jeremy Clark, have insisted they will not hand over their copy of Biko’s autopsy report to his family or the foundation. The foundation has responded by saying it will return to court tomorrow to get the report back.

“Our lawyers have given the Steeles until Monday to agree to immediately hand over the documents or we will proceed with court papers – and this time we will seek costs,” Steve Biko Foundation director Obenewa Amponsah said on Friday.

Dhai says the Steeles had no right to try to auction the reports to start with.

“Section 60 of the National Health Act makes it clear that human tissue can’t be sold for commercial gain. An autopsy is a report that contains detailed information and DNA information – therefore, it cannot be commodified, as DNA is part of human tissue,” she explained.

The Steeles said in opposing the interdict that they inherited a copy of the autopsy report from their mother, who was the secretary to a pathologist named Dr Jonathan Gluckman.

Gluckman was appointed by the Biko family to conduct an independent autopsy on Biko’s body after his death in police custody. His report formed part of a 43-page document compiled by other state doctors.

Clark told City Press on Friday: “If the Biko family wants a copy of the autopsy, they need to go to the national archives and get their own copy.”

This won’t be possible, though. A principal curator at Wits’ Historical Papers department told Sapa on Friday that the original files were stolen in the early 1990s.

“My clients don’t have the original autopsy but a copy [of the original report] – which is freely available to anyone who would like to have access to it,” Clark said.

“They, therefore, have not done anything wrong other than put up on auction a report which has been in the public domain for 37 years.”

But Dhai disagreed, saying: “Whether the report has been in the public domain for decades or not, it is ethically and morally wrong to profit from it.

“I am shocked at the inhumanity and coldness of this family. They obviously don’t care about the legacy of Steve Biko, but about making money by selling it to the highest bidder.”

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