South Africa 30.4.2015 11:33 am

Euthanasia advocate dies naturally

FILE PICTURE: An emotional Dignity SA member Patsy Schongevel with a picture of her son Craig who commited suicide as he did not have the right to assisted suicide after living in pain with neurofibromatosis. Dignity SA was pickiting outside the North Gauteng High Court on 29 April 2015 in support of Robin Stransham-Ford who brought an urgent application for assisted suicide. Picture: Christine Vermooten

FILE PICTURE: An emotional Dignity SA member Patsy Schongevel with a picture of her son Craig who commited suicide as he did not have the right to assisted suicide after living in pain with neurofibromatosis. Dignity SA was pickiting outside the North Gauteng High Court on 29 April 2015 in support of Robin Stransham-Ford who brought an urgent application for assisted suicide. Picture: Christine Vermooten

Terminally ill Cape Town Advocate Robin Stransham-Ford on Thursday won the right to commit medically assisted suicide.

However, Dignity SA Chairperson Professor Sean Davison confirmed on Thursday evening that Stransham-Ford had already died peacefully of natural causes.

The 65-year-old advocate, who suffered from advanced prostrate cancer, reportedly passed away before he could hear the ruling.

In a ground-breaking ruling, Judge Hans Fabricius on Thursday ruled in the High Court in Pretoria that Stransham-Ford was entitled to be assisted by a willing qualified medical doctor to end his life either by the administration of a lethal agent or by providing him with the necessary agent to administer himself. The Judge ordered that the doctor who acceded to Stransham-Ford’s request would not be acting unlawfully and would not be subject to criminal prosecution or disciplinary proceedings by the Health Professions Council.

Judge Fabricius declared that Stransham-Ford was terminally ill and had a severely curtailing life expectancy of some weeks only. He was a mentally competent adult who has freely and voluntarily and without influence requested the court to authorise that he be assisted in an act of suicide.

The Judge made it clear that the order should not be read as endorsing the proposals of the draft Bill on End of Lie contained in the November 1998 Law Commission report as laying down the necessary or only conditions for the entitlement to the assistance of a medical doctor to commit suicide.

The court declared that the common law crimes of murder or culpable homicide in the context of assisted suicide by medical practitioners, insofar as they provide an absolute prohibition, unjustifiably limited Stransham-Ford’s constitutional rights to human dignity and his freedom to bodily and psychological integrity.

To that extent it was declared to be overboard and in conflict with the provisions of the Bill of Rights.

However, the order made it clear that except for the circumstances stipulated in the specific court order, the common law crimes of murder and culpable homicide in the context of assisted suicide by medical practitioners was not affected.

Non-profit organisation Justice SA, which advocates for the legalisation of assisted suicide, has welcomed the ruling.

Mthunzi Mhaga, spokesperson for the Justice Minister, said the Minister intended would apply for leave to appeal against the ruling, but could only do so when Judge Fabricius gave reasons for his ruling on Monday.

Until then, the court order remained in force and any doctor who assisted Stransham-Ford to commit suicide would not be acting illegally.

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