The Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) has raised concerns over the arrest of paediatric surgeon Peter Beale and anaesthetist Dr Abdullhay Munshi, saying it is worried about the precedent it sets for other doctors.
“If the legal approach used in the case of Professor Beale and Dr Munshi is perpetuated, the board is concerned that medical doctors will in future allow patients to die naturally without their intervention for fear of being criminally prosecuted,” it said in a statement on Thursday.
Beale and Munshi were arrested earlier this week on charges of culpable homicide after a 10-year-old boy, Zayyaan Sayed, died after surgery.
Earlier this year, Zayyaan went in for acid reflux but post-operation his lungs collapsed, and he died soon afterwards.
The HPCSA is currently conducting its own investigation into his death as well as complaints from other families who dealt with Beale.
The investigation has since led to Beale’s suspension, pending a full conduct inquiry later next year.
The Medical and Dental Professions Board, under the ambit of the HPCSA, said it believed deaths as a result of “care by a healthcare professional” should not go through criminal proceedings before proceedings in terms of the Inquest Act are concluded.
“Therefore, the death of a person as a result of undergoing a procedure of therapeutic, diagnostic or palliative nature should be dealt with differently from other unnatural deaths.”
Shortly after Zayyaan’s death, his father, Mohammadh Sayed, laid criminal charges against the two doctors.
On Tuesday, they appeared in the Johannesburg Magistrate’s Court and were granted bail of R10,000 each.
The HPCSA said it respected the rights of individuals to lay criminal charges against healthcare professionals but called for caution by the authorities.
“The board calls upon the legal authorities to exercise due diligence in terms of the laws of the country in dealing with death of persons undergoing a procedure of therapeutic, diagnostic or palliative nature,” it added.
Other medical bodies have also backed the two, saying the situation was more complex than it looked.