Basson conduct unethical, expert maintains

2011-09-28 20:34
Pretoria - An American medical ethics expert maintained on Wednesday that Dr Wouter Basson's conduct as head of South Africa's chemical and biological warfare programme was unethical.

This was despite the fact that portions of his opinion were deleted after a ruling by a professional conduct committee of the Health Professions Council of SA (HPCSA).

The council concluded that expert witness Steven Miles could only rely on selected portions of Basson's evidence during his criminal trial, which ended in April 2002, and nothing more.

The ruling followed a short but fierce legal battle between Basson's advocate Jaap Cilliers SC, and the pro forma complainant Salie Joubert SC.

Cilliers complained Miles' opinion was based on extracts from the criminal trial which should never have been presented to him.

He said it had been agreed before Basson's misconduct hearing commenced in 2007 that the complainant would only be able to rely on selected portions of Basson's evidence, which did not include some of the extracts on which Miles based his opinion.

Cilliers pointed out that Miles had only been presented with about 5% of Basson's total evidence in his criminal trial.

Basson was acquitted on 46 charges, ranging from murder to drug dealing and fraud, more than nine years ago.

The record of some of his evidence however now forms part of four charges of unprofessional conduct, to which Basson has pleaded not guilty.

The charges include that he had acted unprofessionally by co-ordinating the large scale production of drugs such as Mandrax and tear gases; weaponising mortar bombs with tear gas; providing disorientation substances for cross-border kidnappings and providing operatives with cyanide capsules for suicidal use.

Cilliers put it to Miles that Basson would vehemently deny ever providing anyone with the drug scoline (used to paralyse the muscles of the chest and abdomen of persons on respirators during surgery) for "grab operations".

He said there was no factual basis for Miles' conclusion in this regard.

Miles conceded the evidence about scoline was "somewhat ambiguous", but said even if one deleted that material, it was still unethical for a physician to provide a PCP drug for grab operations.

Cilliers confronted Miles with his conclusion that Basson acted unethically with teargas-carrying mortar bombs, by risking injuring civilians with the gas and shrapnel.

He said projectiles used by the SA Defence Force did not produce shrapnel, but used a canister that dispersed smoke.

Miles said there was still a risk of falling debris from these mortars posing a risk to civilians. He said it would be irrelevant to a survivor if he was hit in the head by shrapnel or a metal container.

Cilliers said even if the whole canister was dropped on one's head, it would not have caused damage.

Asked if the laws and perceptions of a particular country influenced views on medical ethics, Miles said he had specifically chosen World Medical Association standards and two international protocols to which South Africa subscribed at the time to evaluate Basson's ethical conduct.

"Time may have an effect on standards, but I only relied on standards which were in effect at the relevant period," he said.

The hearing continues.

Read more on:    hpcsa  |  wouter basson

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