Bioethics News

South African judge defends assisted suicide ruling

A South African judge has defended a ruling he made in favor of assisted suicide, claiming that appeals to ‘sanctity of life’ are irrelevant to end-of-life issues.

Judge Hans Fabricius rejected a request from the Department of Justice to rescind his controversial court order, asserting that individual rights need to be respected:

“The main argument [by the justice minister] was that the right to life was paramount and that life was sacrosanct. I agree with this general submission. The provision safeguards a person’s right vis-a-vis the state and society. It cannot mean that an individual is obliged to live, no matter what the quality of his life is.”

Lesego Montsho SC, representing the director of public prosecutions and the health and justice departments, asserted that the order should be rescinded as the applicant died before the judgement took place.

Judge Fabricius rejected this claim, and said a formal appeal must decide whether his ruling is moot. In his judgment, Fabricius rejected religious arguments against euthanasia, arguing that ‘individual rights’ are inviolable:

“The applicant‘s rights, which were sacrosanct to him, could not be sacrificed on the altar of religious self-righteousness.”

The Departments of Justice and Health are expected to appeal to South Africa’s Constitutional Court, which has the final say on cases concerning constitutional rights. 

“Doctors signed a Hippocratic oath which talks about life, life, and life. I won’t give up to allow another arm of government to change the ethics and direction of doctors in the way that ruling is going to,” said Minister of Health Aaron Motsoaledi.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.