Christian medical body reacts to campaign to legalise euthanasia in SA
[notice]Cape Town-based forensic scientist and pro-euthanasia activist Professor Sean Davison returned to South Africa in May after serving a five months house arrest sentence in New Zealand for assisting his cancer-stricken mother to end her life. Since his return he has been campaigning for the legalisation of euthanasia in South Africa, addressing various gatherings and showing a pro-euthanasia documentary at film festivals and private screenings.
Dignity SA, an organisation which Davison founded in September 2011, aims to bring a bill before parliament to legalise assisted dying in precisely defined conditions. Executive members of Dignity SA include Prof Melodie Slabbert, Department of Jurisprudence, School of Law, University of South Africa, and Prof Willem Landman, Executive Director, Ethics Institute of South Africa.
Last week Davison told the Cape Town Press Club that South Africa should legalise euthanasia as many doctors are already secretly helping elderly patients to die. Christian-based Doctors For Life International, which represents more than 1 800 medical doctors and specialists, three quarters of whom practice in South Africa, released a media statement (see below) yesterday, opposing Davison’s views.[/notice]
In a recent press briefing, Prof Sean Davison of Dignity SA suggested that the law forbidding euthanasia in South Africa should be changed. One reason he gave was that some doctors told him they had “helped people to die …. at their request.”
Assisted suicide remains illegal in South Africa, and in all but five countries in the world. The World Medical Association says it is an unethical act. So Davison’s use of the illegal actions of a few doctors in South Africa as motivation for a change in the law is illogical. It would be like legalising corruption because it happens in the civil service!
There are very good reasons why the vast majority of the world’s medical organisations oppose the legalisation of assisted suicide, especially in developing countries. Chief amongst them is that it is a practice, which turns the doctor into occasional executioner, and radically changes the doctor-patient relationship. Assisted suicide is also a practice, which is almost impossible to police, especially in a country like ours, with poorly functioning police and justice systems. It is then too easily abused, as numbers of good scientific studies have shown.
We must be very careful not to trade off the security of vulnerable people in the hands of medical personnel across our land, in favour of the demands of a comparatively small number of people who demand legal freedom to control the timing of their deaths. Instead, we should be putting plenty of resources into training our medical fraternity so that they become really skilled at providing terminal care and pain control. Then none of us need fear the process of dying.