Assisted suicide ruling welcomed

2015-04-30 20:15

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Johannesburg - The World Federation of Right to Die Societies on Thursday commended Pretoria judge Hans Fabricius for the “wise verdict” allowing terminally ill Robin Stransham-Ford the right to commit suicide with a doctor’s help.

Hours after the court grand permission, a statement was released by Dignity SA informing that the former advocate had "died peacefully of natural causes". The organisation had assisted Stransham-Ford with the application.

''We congratulate our member Dignity SA with this success in otherwise such sad circumstances. It certainly is a first step towards a right for every South African to ask for and acquire a legal physician's aid in dying with dignity. We will wait for the result of the appeal, of course," the federation said.

The ruling supported similar initiatives worldwide, giving more citizens a real choice at the end of their life, it said.

Earlier, Fabricius said in the High Court in Pretoria: "The applicant is entitled to be assisted by a medical practitioner either by the administration of a lethal agent or by providing the applicant with the necessary lethal agent to administer himself."

Fabricius said he would provide reasons for the judgment on Monday.

The justice ministry has said that it would appeal the judgment.

"We are disappointed with the judgment and will take it on appeal... because it has far-reaching implications from a health point of view, constitutional rights, and for the powers of the National Prosecuting Authority," Department of Justice spokesperson Mthunzi Mhaga said on Thursday.

"This is precedent setting."

“Unfortunately the order has not been suspended, so anything can happen from now until Monday,'' Mhaga said.

Right to live vs right to human dignity

Shadrack Gutto, a law professor at Unisa and a legal and constitutional analyst, said the judgment struck a difficult balance between the right to life and the right to human dignity.

“I think the courts had a very difficult decision to make, but I believe it is the right decision.

“But this is a ground-breaking decision which we need to look at carefully and not allow us to just assume that whenever I want to die, I can just go to court and the court will grant me the right to die.”

He explained that the rights in the Constitution had limitations.

“A strong message ought to be that this is not opening the doors. People have to apply to the court. Each case will be dealt with on its own merit, and it will be rigorous.

“I am a cancer survivor, and know that chemotherapy, radiation therapy is so painful. You can't go through it all your life. You are just lying there going through treatment and you are not living a human life and it is very difficult, and I think this needs to be put into context.

“It breaks a new ground - morally, ethically. People are going to shout, but it is healthy in a democracy.

“I wish the advocate well, let him join the ancestors, leave the pain on us.”

The Hospice Palliative Care Association of SA (HPCA) said it was opposed to euthanasia.

“The HPCA of South Africa opposes euthanasia and doctor assisted suicide on the basis that it does not in fact support an individual’s dignity nor express the value of that individual," CEO Dr Liz Gwyther said in a statement.

"It is also an unnecessarily extreme measure given the palliative alternatives that neither prolong life nor hasten death. The obligation of a health care professional in the palliative care setting is to try, as far as possible, to offer care that will ease the dying, but not deliberately bring about death.”

According to the World Federation of Right to Die Societies, in 2014, the Levenseindekliniek in The Hague received 1 035 requests for euthanasia, up from 749 in 2013. Of those, 232 people were given euthanasia (up by 98 from 2013), the federation said in a post on Thursday.

Most of the 232 had physical conditions such as multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or were living with the effects of a stroke.

The federation said a total of 15 people were euthanised in Luxembourg between 2013 and 2014.

In the US state of Oregon, a total of 155 terminally-ill adults were given a prescription for medication under the provisions of the Oregon Death with Dignity Act in 2014.

Of this group 105 (67.7%) ingested the medications to die peacefully. Most of them were aged 65 or older, with the median age being 72.

Read more on:    robin stransham-ford  |  pretoria  |  human rights

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