Terminally ill doctor and patient call for the right to euthanasia

2017-09-20 12:34
Dr Suzanne (Sue) Walter (Image: Dying with Dignity SA via Netwerk24)

Dr Suzanne (Sue) Walter (Image: Dying with Dignity SA via Netwerk24)

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Johannesburg – A Johannesburg doctor wants the right to end her own life and that of a patient because the symptoms of their respective illnesses are "torture".

Dr Sue Walter, 43, and Dieter Harck, 68, jointly submitted an application at the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg on Monday calling for the legalisation of euthanasia for consenting patients, Netwerk24 reported.

Harck was diagnosed with motor neuron disease in June 2013. Walter, who has a consulting room at the Mediclinic in Morningside, is also terminally ill.

She was diagnosed in February with multiple myeloma, a form cancer that affects the plasma cells in bone marrow, and has been told she only has one or two years to live.

READ: SA not 'educated enough' for euthanasia

According to information found on the Centre for Professional Education's website, Walter is an expert on palliative care, was a medical director at the Wits Hospice in Johannesburg and also has a psychology qualification.

Walter, a supporter of Dying with Dignity SA, wrote on its website: "I work with terminal patients every day. A dignified end is first prize."

'Unconstitutional' to deny the right to choose

In court papers, Walter and Harck have said that they suffer from "torturous symptoms".

They have both requested euthanasia or assisted suicide and also requested that Walter be allowed to prescribe medicine to Harck for this purpose.

In their application they argue that it is not illegal for each of them to take their own lives, and it also isn't illegal for a doctor to prescribe medicine which patients can use to commit suicide. However, they have to ingest it themselves.

Walter and Harck want the law which summarily prohibits euthanasia with the assistance of a doctor to be changed by only declaring it unconstitutional if the patient is already too weak to commit suicide.

They also want to ensure that euthanasia and doctor-assisted death is not considered unprofessional conduct, which could be penalised.

Furthermore, they have said it is unconstitutional to deny them the right to choose when to die, with the aid of a doctor, according to article 27(1)(2) of article 7(2) of the Constitution.

READ: High Court decision 'wrong' in right-to-die order - SCA

The Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein had earlier overturned a previous High Court ruling on the right to euthanasia on a technicality.

The cancer-stricken patient in that matter, Robin Stransham-Ford, 65, died about two hours before the High Court ruling.

The Supreme Court of Appeal ruled that the judge should have declared the order null and void after finding out that Stransham-Ford had died. For that reason, Judge Malcolm Wallis said, the appeal was successful.

Walter and Harck want their case to be heard in full, taking into account local and international law, the interpretation of the Bill of Rights and the development of common law.

Read more on:    johannesburg  |  health  |  euthanasia

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