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Terminally ill doctor and patient head to court in latest case over right to die

10 February 2021 1:14 PM
Tags:
Euthanasia
Assisted suicide
Physician assisted suicide
Right to die
Johannesburg High Court
Centre for Applied Legal Studies
Dr Suzanne Walters
Diethelm Harck

A medical doctor and her patient, both of whom have terminal diseases, are leading the latest legal battle for physician-assisted suicide to be legalised.

Palliative care specialist Dr. Suzanne Walter and patient Diethelm Harck have launched an application in the Johannesburg High Court in a bid to legalise the right to die.

They are pushing for laws that allow both physician-assisted suicide and physician-assisted euthanasia.

Physician-assisted suicide refers to when the doctor prescribes a lethal drug to a patient and physician-assisted euthanasia is when the doctor administers the medicine to the patient themselves.

The Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS) at Wits University is a friend of the court in the Walter case, which is expected to be heard on Monday 22 February.

Sheena Swemmer, a researcher and attorney based (CALS), says the organisation will also bring expert evidence from Oregon, Canada, and the Netherlands where the right to die is legal.

RELATED: New Zealand votes to legalise euthanasia - what does this mean for Sean Davison?

The Walter case is not the first time the issue has been raised in a South African court.

In 2015, lawyer Robert Stransham-Ford successfully approached the Pretoria high court for an order to allow a doctor to give a lethal agent and end his life.

But Stransham-Ford died naturally just hours before the judgment which ruled in his favour.

The landmark ruling was later overturned by the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA). The SCA judge found that the ruling was moot because Stansham-Ford had already died.

We [CAL] had previously been a friend of the court in the Stransham-Ford case and we are now admitted as an amicus or a friend of the court in the current Walter case.

Sheena Swemmer, Attorney and researcher - Centre for Applied Legal Studies (Wits University)

We are allowed to bring expert evidence as well, which is very unique. So we'll have experts from Oregon, Canada as well as the Netherlands coming to give testimonies about their different spectrums of the right to die in their countries.

Sheena Swemmer, Attorney and researcher - Centre for Applied Legal Studies (Wits University)

We have the right to a dignified life and as CALS submits that the courts should acknowledge that we have the right to a dignified death.

Sheena Swemmer, Attorney and researcher - Centre for Applied Legal Studies (Wits University)

While some media outlets have framed the upcoming court case as a religious battle, Swemmer says the case is fundamentally about Constitutional principles such as equality, freedom of choice bodily integrity, and autonomy.

She says there is an irrational fear about assisted suicide in society, a topic that often fuels "moral hysteria".

The argument here is not to choose for everybody. If you're the person who wants this, then you should be able to choose.

Sheena Swemmer, Attorney and researcher - Centre for Applied Legal Studies (Wits University)

There's this fear that our doctors are just going to kill people or that many lives are going to be taken without reason... Other jurisdictions have shown that that's not something to fear.

Sheena Swemmer, Attorney and researcher - Centre for Applied Legal Studies (Wits University)

These two individuals are basing their argument around equality, freedom of choice around your body and bodily integrity, and ultimate autonomy of the individual, which is the cornerstones of our Constitution.

Sheena Swemmer, Attorney and researcher - Centre for Applied Legal Studies (Wits University)

This is a secular challenge and this is a challenge based on the Constitution... rather than a religious-based argument.

Sheena Swemmer, Attorney and researcher - Centre for Applied Legal Studies (Wits University)

Listen to the discussion on Today with Kieno Kammies:




10 February 2021 1:14 PM
Tags:
Euthanasia
Assisted suicide
Physician assisted suicide
Right to die
Johannesburg High Court
Centre for Applied Legal Studies
Dr Suzanne Walters
Diethelm Harck

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