South Africa: High Court Decision ‘Wrong’ in Right-to-Die Order – SCA

The Supreme Court of Appeal on Tuesday found it was wrong for a high court to issue an order allowing a terminally ill cancer patient to commit suicide with a doctor’s help. “It was wrong to hold that the common law crimes of murder and culpable homicide needed to be or should be developed to accommodate PAE [physician-assisted euthanasia] and PAS [physician-assisted suicide],” the written judgment stated. It found the court did not fully consider the principles and ambit of changing common law to encompass consent as a defence to a charge of murder. The court believed it was desirable for issues that raised “profound moral questions” to be decided by representatives of the country’s citizens as a whole.


“It is of course possible that Parliament will, as has occurred in other countries, intervene and pass legislation on the topic.” The court would welcome such a move in the light of separation of powers. It said there was evidence to suggest he had changed his mind about wanting an assisted death. The high court judge was not told about the change in his condition or his doubts. According to the SCA, the high court’s notion of a dignified death was not informed by a rounded view of society. “It [a court] needs to consider the impact of its decision beyond our affluent suburbs into our crowded townships, our informal settlements, and in the vast rural areas that make up South Africa.”Should assisted suicide ever be allowed in the country, there would need to be a proper regulatory framework.

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