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Basson confident he'll get to keep his medical licence

Katharine Child

Dr Wouter Basson says he is confident his licence to practise medicine will not be revoked after his professional conduct hearing continues next year.

Dr Wouter Basson says he is certain he will continue practising as a doctor when the hearing into whether the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPSCA) should revoke his medical licence finally comes to an end.

“In my mind I am confident because I know I have done nothing wrong, so I am happy”, he told reporters in Pretoria on Friday after his case was postponed to late January.

Basson currently runs a cardiology practice in Cape Town.

The council’s prosecution has charged Basson with unprofessional and unethical conduct in providing drugs to create chemical weapons, offering cyanide to soldiers to commit suicide if they were caught and filling mortars with teargas to be sent into Angola, while he was head of Project Coast, the chemical and biological weapons unit.

The hearing ended at midday on Friday when the HPCSA’s witness, medical ethics expert Professor Steven Miles, finished his three-and-half days on the stand.

It will resume for two days at the end of January where Basson’s lawyers will ask for the case to be thrown out, on as yet unspecified grounds.

Asked about how he feels about the drawn-out nature of the proceedings in the case, which is expected to continue until at least May 2012, Basson said he had “learned to live with it”.

Basson also spent 30 months in the Pretoria high court on trial for murder, drug trafficking, fraud and embezzlement, but was acquitted of 46 charges in 2002.

Basson said he still felt satisfied with how the hearing had progressed throughout the week. “The defence achieved their objectives with the expert and got him to make the concessions we need for him to present my defence”.

When Miles finished giving testimony on Friday morning, he said was pleased. “You always feel good after you complete a marathon.” He had faced two-and-half days of intense cross-examination by Basson’s attorney Jaap Cilliers.

Cilliers may have been successful at getting the HPCSA’s previous witness, Professor Solomon Benatar, to concede in the first hearing in 2007 that Basson had done nothing wrong, but Miles stood his ground.

He did admit he made a “mistake” in one small piece of evidence but kept his cool through the onslaught and continued to maintain that Basson had been unethical when he “used his medical knowledge to cause death”.

Miles referred to Basson’s own words from his criminal trial that ended 2002 to make the point that his conduct at Project Coast was unethical, according to range of international medical ethics codes that had been in place at the time.

Following the postponement, Miles told reporters the hearing into whether Basson should still be practising as a doctor was an “enormously important case around the world ... and I am honoured that I happened to have the set of skills [needed] to testify in the case”.

Miles is a medical ethics expert and doctor from the University of Minnesota who has written two books on the bioethics and whose lengthy CV describes the many ethical committees he has sat on or chaired.

Miles told journalists it was a South African, Dr Christian Barnard who did the first heart transplant that influenced his decision to choose the career he did.

He said Barnard studied at the University of Minnesota, where he is based.

“We have a three-storey mural that I have to walk past everyday, which depicts the operation. When I was 17, seeing that operation and also intrigued by the ethics implications of that is how I got into medicine and the medical ethics that brought me here today”.

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