Euthanasia for SA?

Euthanasia for SA?There is a strong ethical and legal case to be made for euthanasia and patient-assisted suicide in South Africa according to one of the papers delivered at the World Congress of Family Doctors being held in Durban this week.

There is a strong ethical and legal case to be made for euthanasia and patient-assisted suicide in South Africa according to one of the papers delivered at the World Congress of Family Doctors being held in Durban this week.

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There is a strong ethical case for euthanasia (doctors assisting their terminally patients to die) and patient-assisted suicide in South Africa, according to Professor Willem Landman of the Ethics Institute of SA.  

Addressing delegates at the 16th World Congress of Family Doctors in Durban, Landsman said that the SA Law Commission (SALC) had prepared legislation on “end-of life decisions”, including euthanasia in 1999, and that the draft law had been given to the Health Minister for consideration.

Landman argued that euthanasia could be considered on the basis of consistency, fairness and in terms of the Constitution.  

“It is already an established medical practice in South Africa to withhold and withdraw life-supporting treatment, so it would be consistent to allow euthanasia,” said Landsman.

“Some patients are incapable of committing suicide, so euthanasia should be allowed in fairness.”

Finally, he said, there was a constitutional argument for euthanasia. He pointed out that the Constitutional Court had ruled in the case of Soobramoney, a man requiring kidney dialysis at a state hospital, that government was permitted to deny the man treatment on the basis of a lack of resources.

“If government can let him die, why can’t he die in a more dignified and gentle way?” asked Landman.  

He said the SALC’s draft legislation posed three options:

  • that euthanasia remained illegal;  
  • that general practitioners were legally empowered to practice euthanasia with their patients’ consent, provided a second opinion was sought from another GP;
  • that a panel decided on whether a patient was eligible for euthanasia.

However, he said conditions in South Africa posed many challenges for euthanasia, particularly as many citizens did not have access to doctors.  

Health Department spokesperson Jo-Anne Collinge said legislation relating to euthanasia was “not on the legislative agenda for this year”.