‘Not in Xhosa culture’ to turn off life support

2013-06-27 00:00

CULTURE dictates that any machine keeping former president Nelson Mandela alive must stay on until a divine power decides his mortal life should end.

That’s the view of traditionalist and diviner Dr Nokuzola Mndende, who also spoke about a meeting in Qunu on Tuesday at which elders and family met.

Some reports held that elders believed Mandela’s ancestors were unhappy with grandson Mandla’s decision to relocate family graves to Mvezo some years ago.

“He can only be punished for his own wrongs, not for those of his children or grandchildren.

“Even the switching off of the life support machines, in our culture that’s unheard of. Only God decides an individual’s boundaries in life.

“If the discussions were on cultural and traditional issues, then only cultural and traditional issues were discussed,” she said.

Mndende said in such times families gather and discuss various issues, and that “there’s no need for outside interference”.

“This is purely a time for the family to discuss matters that matter to them, and not to the outsiders.

“It is disrespectful for outsiders to want to interfere; for people to lay flowers at the hospital where Madiba is admitted; and the letters written by schoolchildren. By this time the Madiba family should be left alone, this is their time. All this fuss is just for publicity and people don’t realise that they are making Madiba a freak show,” she said.

Mandela’s condition remains serious but precise details, such as his responsiveness or lack of it, are unconfirmed.

It is also unclear what machines may be keeping Mandela’s vital signs going.

Anton van Niekerk, professor of philosophy at the University of Stellenbosch and director of the Centre for Applied Ethics, said it is better to switch off life support if there was no indication that the patient could recover.

“The family must take this decision in consultation with the medical team — and this is never an easy decision,” he said, especially when it is the life of an extraordinary person at stake.

But Van Niekerk said cultural convictions had to be respected as far as possible.

“The main question from a medical perspective is whether there is any reasonable chance for the person to continue living without the machines.

“The definition of death in our justice system requires brain activity. If a person shows no brain activity, the process cannot be turned around.”

Dr Keymanthri Moodley of the U.S. Centre for Medical Ethics said it did not make any sense to keep someone alive on machines if there was no hope for a recovery.

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