Assisted suicide ruling remains in force

Judge Hans Fabricius on Monday refused an application by the government and the Health Professions Council to rescind his order, saying it concerned a matter of public interest and could affect more people than just Robin Stransham-Ford.

He was of the view that the Constitutional Court and Parliament should reconsider the issue of legalising assisted suicide.

Lesego Montsho-Moloisane SC, counsel for the ministers of justice and health and the National Prosecuting Authority, argued that Stransham-Ford had already died when the order was granted, which made the court order moot.

‘His death brought an end to all his rights’
She said it was not a class action, but an application brought by a single applicant who never heard the ruling: “The applicant ceased to exist. His right to life automatically came to an end with his death. His death brought to an end all rights he had.”

Fabricius said his order did not prohibit others who sought the right to commit assisted suicide from coming to court. 

“Previously there was no cause of action in terms of our law because it was prohibited under the common law.

“Now a cause of action has been established and it is forward looking. It’s for the Constitutional Court to decide if it has become moot because the applicant died,” he said. “I could not have made an order at all if I did not develop a cause of action. Once that was established, the cause of action obviously affects other parties. It is in the public interest and in the interest of justice.”

The judge last week granted an order not only allowing Stransham-Ford to ask a doctor to help him end his life, but also declaring that the doctor who did so would not be acting illegally.

Read: Terminally ill man wins right to assisted death

In written reasons for his ruling, which was handed down on Monday, Fabricius said the absolute prohibition on assisted suicide in common law did not accord with the right to human dignity, freedom and security protected by the Constitution. 

“The main argument [by the justice minister] was that the right to life was paramount and that life was sacrosanct. I agree with this general submission. The provision safeguards a person’s right vis-a-vis the state and society. It cannot mean that an individual is obliged to live, no matter what the quality of his life is.”

Fundamental human right
He supported the view of counsel for Stransham-Ford that it was a fundamental human right to be able to die with dignity and the SA Law Commission’s 1998 view that the sacredness of the quality of life should be accentuated rather than the sacredness of life per se. 

“It is noticeable, unfortunate and disturbing that from a philosophical … and jurisprudential point of view … societies in various parts of the world acquiesce in thousands of deaths caused by weapons of mass destruction. They seem to even tolerate a horrendous murder rate in a number of countries, including ours. They seem to tolerate the yearly slaughter on our roads because, despite the statistics, thousands of people drive like lunatics on our roads every single day. 

“People die of Aids, from malaria by the hundreds and thousands, from hunger, from malnutrition and impure water and insufficient medical facilities. The state says that it cannot afford to fulfil all socioeconomic demands, but it assumes the power to tell an educated individual of sound mind who is gravely ill and about to die, that he must suffer the indignity of the severe pain, and is not allowed to die in a dignified, quiet manner with the assistance of a medical practitioner.”

‘There is no duty to live’
He said the commission stated that a dying person was still a living person, and Stransham-Ford was entitled to the rights of a living person.

“The irony is, they say, that we are told from childhood to take responsibility for our lives, but when faced with death we are told we may not be responsible for our own passing … One can choose one’s education, one’s career, one can decide to get married, one can live according to a lifestyle of one’s choice, one can consent to medical treatment or one can refuse it, one can have children and one can abort children, one can practice birth control, and one can die on the battlefield of one’s country. 

“But one cannot decide how to die. The choice of a patient such as the present is consistent with an open and democratic society and its values and norms as expressed in the Bill of Rights. There is of course no duty to live, and a person can waive his right to life.

“The irony … is that the state sanctions death when it is bad for a person, but denies it when it is good,” he said. – News24

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.


Inside Facebook’s big bet on Africa

New undersea cables will massively increase bandwidth to the continent

No back to school for teachers just yet

Last week the basic education minister was adamant that teachers will return to school on May 25, but some provinces say not all Covid-19 measures are in place to prevent its spread

Engineering slips out of gear at varsity

Walter Sisulu University wants to reprioritise R178-million that it stands to give back to treasury after failing to spend it

Lockdown relief scheme payouts to employees tops R14-billion

Now employers and employees can apply to the Unemployment Insurance Fund for relief scheme payments

Press Releases

Covid-19 and Frontline Workers

Who is caring for the healthcare workers? 'Working together is how we are going to get through this. It’s not just a marathon, it’s a relay'.

PPS webinar Part 2: Small business, big risk

The risks that businesses face and how they can be dealt with are something all business owners should be well acquainted with

Call for applications for the position of GCRO executive director

The Gauteng City-Region Observatory is seeking to appoint a high-calibre researcher and manager to be the executive director and to lead it

DriveRisk stays safe with high-tech thermal camera solution

Itec Evolve installed the screening device within a few days to help the driver behaviour company become compliant with health and safety regulations

Senwes launches Agri Value Chain Food Umbrella

South African farmers can now help to feed the needy by donating part of their bumper maize crop to delivery number 418668

Ethics and internal financial controls add value to the public sector

National treasury is rolling out accounting technician training programmes to upskill those who work in its finance units in public sector accounting principles

Lessons from South Korea for Africa’s development

'Leaders can push people through, through their vision and inspiration, based on their exemplary actions'

Old Mutual announces digital AGM

An ambitious plan to create Africa’s biggest digital classroom is intended to address one of the continent’s biggest challenges — access to education

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday