A court ruling paved the way for a terminally ill man to have the right to die in South Africa on Thursday, April 30. The High Court in Pretoria ruled in the case of Stransham-Ford that he could have a doctor assist him to end the pain and suffering he endured, and there would be protection from prosecution for the doctor. The judge said that Stransham-Ford was entitled to end his life with dignity.
Cape Town advocate Robin Stransham-Ford, age 65, suffered from prostate cancer and died peacefully in the presence of family members and friends on Thursday, April 30. It was not stated whether Stransham-Ford died before or after the court ruling.
The right to die campaigners, Dignity SA, said that medically-assisted suicide in South Africa remained illegal, although there were growing calls for legalisation. The ruling in favor of allowing Stransham-Ford to die with dignity has paved the way to have the right-to-die law changed.
Assisted suicide is illegal in most countries around the world. In Switzerland, doctors may help terminally ill patients commit suicide in an attempt to end their pain and suffering. In 2010, a South African doctor was found guilty of helping his mother die by administering a lethal dose of morphine. The doctor, Sean Davison, was placed under house arrest for five months by a New Zealand court.
The right to die with dignity would be a compassionate and caring gesture for anyone suffering from terminal illness. Life can be a burden, devoid of any good, for a person suffering. When a patient accepts that death would ease the pain and suffering, and when medical intervention cannot help, dying with dignity is a choice not only for the patient, but also for family members as well.
The ruling in favor of allowing Stransham-Ford to die with dignity is a welcome change for people who wish to exercise the right to end their life in South Africa. However, the ruling is not without challenge. The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) has expressed disappointment with the decision to allow the terminally-ill Stransham-Ford the right to die with the help of a medical doctor.
The NPA will appeal the decision based on future implications of constitutional rights, the health perspective and the powers of the NPA. Euthanasia is not legal in South Africa, and the decision protects the doctor from prosecution, thereby overriding the control of the NPA. The NPA will wait until Monday for the outcome of their appeal to have the ruling suspended, and in the meantime, would probably have to deal with more than 100 assisted deaths that could occur over the weekend.
The focus of the NPA on the right-to-die ruling has attracted criticism, as it takes action against the dignity of a dying person. The NPA does not prosecute mothers who terminate the life of unborn babies and are aided by a nurse. However, the choice of a terminally ill adult to die with dignity is condoned. The valuable time wasted by the NPA seeking to end the right to die ruling, and thereby smashing future hopes of people wanting to die with dignity is ludicrous. The NPA should focus on more relevant cases that require urgent attention, such as the farm murders, rape, and xenophobia happening around the country.
Opinion by Laura Oneale
Photo by Mark Hillary – Creativecommons Flickr License