Doctors condemn assisted suicide

Doctors condemn assisted suicide

The Health Professions Council of SA (HPCSA) is appealing against a recent court decision giving a terminally ill man the right to get a doctor to help him to die.

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Three months ago, the Pretoria High Court gave cancer patient Robin Stransham-Ford the go-ahead to get a doctor to assist him to die.

But HPCSA president Professor Samuel Mokgokong said the council had joined the Ministers of Justice and Health in appealing against the decision as assisted suicide was “unethical”.

“Assisted suicide is unacceptable whether or not it is performed at a patient’s request,” Mokgokong told the annual conference of the Board of Healthcare Funders yesterday.

“But assisting a dying person to get the necessary medicine to alleviate their pain and suffering in the terminal phase is important,” said Mokgokong. “Health practitioners must refrain from futile treatment that prolongs death.”

Dr Mzukisi Grootboom, chairperson of the SA Medical Association (SAMA), agreed with Mokgokong, saying that “doctors should never use their medical skill to assist patients to commit suicide”.

But Grootboom also stressed that doctors must also respect terminally ill patients’ right to refuse life-prolonging treatment.

“Treatment merely to prolong life can be to the detriment of the patient,” said Grootboom, lamenting that there was little emphasis on palliative care aimed at managing the pain of patients in their last days in South Africa.

Both Mokgokong and Grootboom stressed that assisted suicide could be abused as it was a cheaper option and an easier option than proper care.

Grootboom added that there was an argument that assisted suicide could only take place in a country where there was a universal system of palliative care, a stable and well-functioning legal system and respect for human life.

South Africa has no policy on euthanasia. In 1994, the South African Law Commission recommended legalising doctor-assisted suicide and a Bill was published for comment in 1997 but never enacted. – Health-e News.