South Africa's Supreme Court of Appeals overturned a high court ruling Dec. 9 that would have allowed retiree Robin Stransham-Ford to access physician-assisted death. Photo courtesy of Ben Bezuidenhout, Wikimedia Commons

Assisted suicide remains illegal in South Africa after court ruling

  • December 9, 2016

PRETORIA, South Africa – While countries around the world such as Canada, Germany and Japan have passed legislation to legalize physician assisted suicide, one has ruled to reject it: South Africa.

The country's Supreme Court of Appeals overturned a high court ruling on Tuesday that would have allowed Robin Stransham-Ford, a 65-year-old retiree who had prostate cancer, to kill himself with the help of a doctor.

“A court addressing these issues needs to be aware of differing cultural values and attitudes within our diverse population,” the Supreme Court stated, according to the Daily Mail.

In addition, the court noted that in Stransham-Ford's case, the high court made their ruling on an “incorrect and restricted factual basis,” and that there was “no full and proper examination of the present state of our law in this difficult area.”

In 2015, the Pretoria High Court ruled that Stransham-Ford could end his life with medical assistance, stating he was living with unbearable pain. The ruling would have paved the way for assisted suicide legislation within the country.

However, before the court officially granted the order, Stransham-Ford had died. The government brought his case to the attention of the Supreme Court of Appeals, which officially overturned the pro-assisted suicide ruling on Tuesday.

Some euthanasia advocates, such as Dignity SA, expressed outrage in the new ruling, calling physician assisted suicide “a human rights issue.” The pro-assisted suicide organization voiced its disappointment, and said they might take the case to the country's constitutional court.

Retired Anglican archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa also voiced his support of physician assisted suicide, saying that he would “not wish to be kept alive at all costs.”

However, Justice Minister Michael Masutha expressed relief over the court’s decision, especially as it pertains to the country’s constitution.

“We are relieved that the SCA correctly stated the law as this decision could have far reaching implications on the constitutionally entrenched right to life and our common law crimes of murder and culpable homicide,” Justice Masutha said.

Among the reasons the Court of Appeals ruled against physician-assisted suicide was the chance that the acceptance of voluntary euthanasia would lead to eventual abuse and could overflow into far-reaching cases.

While physician-assisted suicide currently remains illegal in South Africa, the issue is gaining traction in other parts of the world. A handful of states in the U.S. have passed pro-euthanasia legislations over the past few years, while other countries – such as the Netherlands and Belgium – have accepted the practice since 2002. 

(Story from the Catholic News Agency)

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