The State has filed a notice of leave to appeal the High Court in Pretoria’s ruling that a terminally-ill man had the right to commit suicide with the assistance of a doctor.

Doctors for Life International (DFL) said in a statement on Friday the appeal notice was filed by the justice ministry, health ministry, and the National Prosecuting Authority at the Supreme Court of Appeals. DFL would be part of the appeal as a friend of the court.

On April 30, Judge Hans Fabricius ruled that terminally-ill Robin Stransham-Ford had the right to commit suicide with a doctor’s help. Fabricius said at the time: “The applicant is entitled to be assisted by a medical practitioner either by the administration of a lethal agent or by providing the applicant with the necessary lethal agent to administer himself.” Hours after the court granted permission, a statement was released by Dignity SA to say that Stransham-Ford had “died peacefully of natural causes”. The organisation had assisted the former advocate with his application.

‘Judge got it wrong’

DFL said Fabricius had got it wrong in finding the SA Law Reform Commission’s 1998 report on euthanasia recommended voluntary active euthanasia be introduced in South Africa, subject to certain safeguards. “The report in question actually recommended that: ‘There be no change to the current law in SA prohibiting active voluntary euthanasia and physician assisted suicide and that such approach was predicated on the Law Commission’s acute awareness of the array of competing interests and the diverse social, moral and ethical values involved regarding law reform on the issue of active voluntary euthanasia and physician assisted suicide’.”

The report further stated that arguments in favour of legalising voluntary euthanasia was insufficient reason to weaken society’s prohibition of intentional killing, as entrenched in section 11 of the Constitution, considered the “cornerstone of the law and of social relationships”. DFL said in almost all cases, palliative medical treatment was available and it improved the terminally-ill patient’s condition for a prolonged period of time. “With modern medicine, including high doses of opioid drugs, less than 10% of patients similarly placed as Mr Stansham-Ford die of pain,” the organisation said.

Quality of life

“Hospice doctors and staff specialising in symptom control of terminal patients can be provided at the home in the vast majority of cases.” The result was that a terminally-ill patient’s quality of life could be vastly improved and as such, they could spend the last days of their life under quality medical care, surrounded by loved ones at home if they so choose.

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