October 6, 2022

South African court authorises assisted suicide

On Thursday a South African court ruled that a 65-year-old man should be allowed to undergo assisted suicide.

On Thursday a South African court ruled that a 65-year-old man should be allowed to undergo assisted suicide, setting a precedent that could influence broader law reform in the country.

The case involved Pretorian man Robin Stransham-Ford, a retired barrister, who was diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer in 2013. Pretorian High Court Judge Hans Fabricius ruled that Stransham-Ford’s doctor be immune from prosecution when assisting him to die. Stransham-Ford died the shortly after the court order was issued.

Judge Fabricius noted that is currently no law prohibiting assisted suicide in the country; he argued that he was legally obliged to rule on the case and the man’s rights.

Dignity SA, a pro-euthanasia lobby group, say the ruling is potentially a watershed moment in their push to legalise assisted suicide and euthanasia:  “We hope that Mr Stransham-Ford’s case will set a precedent for the whole country”, said Sean Davidson, the founder of the group.

The South African ministers of health and justice, the Health Professions Council of South Africa and the National Director of Public Prosecutions opposed the case, as did Doctors for Life and an NGO Cause for Justice, who were heard as friends of the court.

Judge Fabricius tried to play down the significance of his decision, saying that future cases would need to be debated on their merits: “It is not correct to say from now on it will be a free-for-all.”

But National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) spokesman Mthunzi Mhaga said the ruling was “precedent-setting” and had “far-reaching implications” from a health and constitutional point of view. 

South African court authorises assisted suicide
Xavier Symons
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Creative commons
assisted suicide
euthanasia
law
South Africa