Editorial: Matter of life and death

We agree wholeheartedly with Judge Hans Fabricius who, in his judgment on the case of assisted suicide brought by Robin Stransham-Ford, said that the overall matter of the right to die with dignity should go to the Constitutional Court for definitive and binding judgment. The case was brought to the high court in Pretoria. Stransham-Ford, who was dying of terminal cancer (and in fact died a “natural” death on the very day judgment was delivered), demanded the right to be able to have a doctor assist in his choice of when and how to end his own life in the face of unbearable and ongoing pain.

The judge knew his judgment would hold only in his present jurisdiction, and would not set a national precedent, though it might be influential on future judgments. Each new plea for doctor-assisted suicide has to be evaluated anew, and there could be inconsistency in the application of the law. Do we really have to go through all that trauma, afresh, each time someone wants to die with dignity?

Another reason the Constitutional Court must rule on the matter is the opposition to doctor-assisted dying from both the minister of health and the National Prosecuting Authority. The latter’s chief worry is that this judgment causes confusion about how to apply the law that, as it stands, makes it illegal for doctors to help patients to die. If they do, they face both a criminal charge from the NPA and an ethics charge from the Health Professions Council.

The objection from the health minister is that it is up to God, not a doctor or even the terminal patient, to decide when that person shall die. This view is both easier to deal with and harder to combat – easier because an argument based on God’s will is intellectually simple to refute (South Africa is not a theocracy but a constitutional democracy) and harder because faith-based views are almost impossible to undo. A Constitutional Court judgment on the matter would clear that up.

The issue is about a person’s democratic rights, not about whether God has a problem with mere humans usurping his prerogative to decide who dies when. It’s about the patient: a citizen guaranteed human dignity in our Bill of Rights. It’s not about extending the right of doctors or even family members to decide when a terminal patient should die. It’s about the individual who is dying being able to decide on their own wellbeing, which includes whether to endure more pointless, degrading pain and suffering, or to claim that right to dignity even in death.

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