New draft assisted-suicide bill is delayed

Cape Argus

Article by Vincent Cruywagen

The final process of the draft Amendment Bill to the National Health Act 61 of 2003, which seeks to legalise a living will and durable power of attorney for health care, has been delayed by the election of the new Parliament.

DignitySA member Willem Landman, who is in London and was instrumental in co-authorising the bill, said many countries including some states in the US are reviewing their legal positions regarding assisted dying.

His remarks came in the wake of the three years’ house arrest handed to right-to-die activist Sean Davison, 58, in the Western Cape High Court, after a plea and sentencing agreement yesterday.

Davison was handed an eight-year sentence suspended for five years on three counts of murder to which he pleaded guilty. The UWC professor’s deal was approved by Western Cape Judge President John Hlope.

Landman said: “The election of a new Parliament has delayed the process. The two instruments are both already embedded in the National Health Act 61 of 2003, but for various reasons doctors often refuse to act on them. That is wrong, given the principles of autonomous decision-making and informed consent.

“So, the amendment seeks to provide guidance and give comfort to doctors who fear they might expose themselves to legal action. Many patients suffer needlessly and unjustifiable because some think, incorrectly, that they are the sole decision-makers.

“The living will and durable power of attorney for health care are two instruments that enable patients to make certain decisions when life is no longer worth living,” he said.

Davison pleaded guilty to killing quadriplegic Anrich Burger in 2013; Justin Varian in 2015, and Richard Holland also in 2015.