South Africa 29.4.2015 04:18 pm

Assisted suicide battle kept alive

Picture Thinkstock

Picture Thinkstock

Terminally ill Cape Town advocate Robert Stransham-Ford did not need the assistance of the court and could commit suicide without involving a medical doctor, the organisation Doctors for Life has argued.

Doctors for Life and Cause for Justice, the Ministers of Justice and Health and the Health Professions Council are opposing an application by Robert Stransham-Ford, 65, for an urgent order declaring that he may request a medical practitioner to administer or provide him with a lethal substance to end his life. He also wants the court to declare that the medical practitioner involved would not be held accountable and would be free from any civil, criminal or disciplinary liability.

Dignity SA, advocates for the legalisation of assisted dying, supports the application. Stransham-Ford suffers from terminal prostrate cancer which has spread to his lower spine, kidneys and lymph nodes and says he has only weeks, if not days to live. He maintains he wants to die with dignity on his own terms and that denying him the right to assisted suicide violates his right to dignity.

Counsel for Stransham-Ford, HB Marais, argued that animals were treated better than humans. He said South Africa prided itself on its advanced Bill of Rights, yet wanted to remain in the dark ages as far as the right to assisted suicide was concerned. He argued that supplying a pill for assisted suicide was no different than switching off life support machines or injecting morphine to alleviate pain, knowing it could cause a patient’s heart to stop.

Counsel for the Ministers of Justice and Health Lesego Montso-Moloisane SC, argued that everyone had the right to live, but that nobody could force you to live. “Why should he be assisted?… It’s his own prerogative to decide how to end his life, but without bringing other persons into the picture,” she said.

Counsel for the HPCSA, Harry van Bergen, argued that developing the common law to make assisted suicide lawful would offend the right to equality because not all patients would have access to that relief. He argued that one had to have regard to the ripple effect of such an order. “The applicant is free to make his own choices, but he’s not free from the consequences of those choices. He’s free to choose other means to end his life,” he said.

Cause for Justice in court papers accused Stransham-Ford of being selfish based on his subjective understanding of what would give effect to his right to dignity but ignoring greater societal interests. The wish to die ought not to create a right to die that places burdens on the state and society, counsel for the organisation argued.

Counsel for DFL, Adrian D’Oliviera, argued that Stransham-Ford had not made out any case that he was incapable of taking his life and that he requires a doctor’s assistance to do so. He has also not shown what means he wanted to use or that those means would not cause him suffering in the process of dying, he said. Marais replied that jumping of a building or “splattering one’s brains against the wall” was not a dignified way of dying.
The application continues.

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