A Matter of Life and Death

A story that has made headlines the past week is that of a young mother, who not only tried to commit suicide, but who also assisted her 9-year-old son in trying to do so. Both attempts failed. It is reported that the child suffered from depression, however you have to ask: How does ending your life become the best option? How can assisting your child in killing him-/herself be the best solution to his/her problems?

According to SADAG (http://www.sadag.org/), South Africa is in the bottom four countries for providing mental health treatment, where 50 % of health facilities do not meet quality standards. This is while 16.5 % of South Africans have mental health problems, of which anxiety and depression is the most common.

Surely more has to be done in our society to help the vulnerable! We are rapidly changing into a society of absolute loneliness where we don’t want to take care of each other anymore. And when we suffer, we think death will solve all.

The Right to Life

Section 11 of the Constitution guarantees everyone the right to life. The right to life is fundamental and cannot be limited by any other right. Does the constitutional framework, and in particular the right to life, the right to security in and control over one’s body (section 12(2)(b)) and the right to human dignity (section 10), make provision for a right to die or for a so-called “right to die with dignity”?

Euthanasia: Why do the vulnerable feel like death is the only way out?

Among the most vulnerable groups in our society are children, the elderly, disabled and the terminally ill. These are people who are in many instances, completely dependent on others for their day-to-day living.

In Belgium, a physically healthy 24-year-old, who suffered from depression, was granted a right to die after many failed suicide attempts. “Death feels to me not as a choice. If I had a choice, I would choose a bearable life, but I have done everything and that was unsuccessful.” You can view the article here. Moments before what would have been her last, she chose life over death.

Michael Burgess, spokesman for the New York Alliance against Assisted Suicide said, “Those most at risk of taking their lives are vulnerable seniors. These people should never feel that they are a burden to friends and family, nor should they succumb to psychological pressures or experience the hopelessness which could push them to take their lives. Let the state provide them with better access to palliative care, mental health counselling and social support, rather than life-taking options.” The same can be said of the disabled, terminally-ill and depressed.

People should be able to choose life, a life that is more than “bearable”. Through receiving the right form of assistance and support from society, one can overcome.

Euthanasia in South Africa: Stransham-Ford v The Minister of Justice and Correctional Services & others

In this on-going matter, the Applicant (who was terminally ill) sought to dramatically change the law on assisted suicide and euthanasia (“mercy-killing”). (You can view our court application to be joined to the case as a friend of the court here). In our Application, we rely on evidence from Belgium, which illustrates a disquieting extension of the practice of physician assisted suicide to a variety of situations, in circumstances where such extensions are not properly regulated.

Euthanasia: The solution to human suffering?

Euthanasia is not the solution to human suffering. Better palliative care and support from society needs to be developed before consideration can be given to whether the best option in a particular set of facts would be to allow a suffering person to be put to death.

Is it better to provide a child with a “way out” by providing him/her with the means to kill him-/herself, or is it better, in a country such as South Africa, where the right to life plays such a cardinal role in our Constitution, to preserve life and assist the vulnerable in every other possible way – to live? We submit that it is the latter.

Let us not allow history to repeat itself…


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