S Africa court backs ‘right to die’

Nurse and patient holding hands

Countries where assisted dying is legal include Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg

A South African court has granted a terminally ill man the right to die, in a landmark ruling for assisted suicide.

The Pretoria High Court ruled that Robin Stransham-Ford, 65, who was diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer in 2013, could allow a doctor to help him end his life.

Judge Hans Fabricius said that the doctor treating him cannot now be prosecuted or face disciplinary action.

State prosecutors say they plan to appeal the ruling.

National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) spokesman Mthunzi Mhaga said the ruling was “precedent-setting” and had “far-reaching implications” from a health and constitutional point of view.

Mr Mhaga appeared to imply that until the state’s appeal became active, it would not be able to take any action if Mr Stransham-Ford’s assisted suicide were to go ahead.

”Unfortunately the order has not been suspended so anything can happen from now until Monday,” he told South Africa’s News24.

Judge Fabricius, quoted in local media, said the ruling applied only to Mr Stransham-Ford’s case and that future cases would be debated on their merits.

“It is not correct to say from now on it will be a free-for-all,” he is quoted as saying.

The justice and health ministers, as well as the Health Professions Council of South Africa, have opposed the legal case.

Campaign group Dignity SA said it would welcome an appeal as a chance to test the right to die against the constitution, the Associated Press news agency reports.

Mr Stransham-Ford, a lawyer in Cape Town, had requested that the doctor who cares for him be protected from prosecution, losing his doctor’s licence or being sued.

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April 30th, 2015

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