ADVOCATING FOR THE PRE-EMINENCE OF THE INHERENT WORTH OF HUMAN LIFE(JULY 2021)
A SHORT OVERVIEW OF CAUSE FOR JUSTICE’S WORK DURING THE FIRST HALF OF 2021
At Cause For Justice (CFJ) we believe in the sanctity of life. The pre-eminent worth of a human being’s life dictates that each human life carries equal value and that everyone is entitled to equal protection and benefit of the law. This is why in the past six months of 2021, CFJ has placed itself at the forefront of issues concerning human life and speaking up for those who don’t have a voice.
VOICE OF THE UNBORN BABY (COURT CASE)
UPDATE (July 2021)
On 29 March 2021, the Pretoria High Court handed down judgement in the Voice of the Unborn Baby (VotUB) case and declared that most parents who lose a child prior to birth, have a right to bury their baby’s bodily remains irrespective of how far along pregnancy had been.
The court granted most of the relief sought by the applicants (Voice of the Unborn Baby NPC and the Catholic Archdiocese of Durban), including granting parents of babies miscarried before reaching viability (26 weeks in the womb) the right to choose to bury the bodily remains of their deceased unborn baby. The court however, declined to extend this right to parents of unborn babies who die through human intervention (whether with the intent to save the unborn baby’s life or to end the unborn baby’s life). To this we emphatically respond that the mere fact that a baby is not wanted does not mean that a baby is in any way less human.
CFJ was an amicus curiae party (‘friend of the court’) in this matter and participated in the case by way of evidence and legal argument.
Disappointingly, the High Court also failed to deal with CFJ’s arguments about the implications of the constitutional value of human dignity for how South African society should treat pre-natal human life. CFJ placed emphasis in its arguments on the recognition of the inherent worth / human dignity of all humans, including children in the womb.
What’s next – to the Constitutional Court we go
The matter will now be heard by the Constitutional Court, who have it within their power to confirm the High Court’s order, to amend it or to replace it with a different order of its own. One of the applicants in the High Court (the Catholic Archdiocese of Durban) has appealed against that part of the order that extends the right to choose to bury their unborn baby to parents of miscarried babies only. It seeks to have this right extended to all parents of unborn babies who die prior to birth (i.e. including unborn babies who die due to human intervention). The Ministers of Home Affairs and of Health are appealing the decision of the High Court in its entirety. They do not want parents of babies who die prior to 26 weeks in the womb to be able to choose bury the bodily remains of their babies.
CFJ will apply to the Constitutional Court to take part in the proceedings as a friend of the court. The Constitutional Court will hear arguments in the matter on 4 November 2021.
In the meantime, CFJ has sent briefing documents on the legal implications of the High Court decision to the medical fraternity and to the pro-life lobby in South Africa to keep them informed of the most recent developments.
To learn about this important cause – read our Op-Ed in the Mail & Guardian here.
EUTHANASIA (COURT CASE)
UPDATE (July 2021)
The legal challenge to legalise physician assisted suicide (PAS) and active voluntary euthanasia (PAE) is continuing in the Johannesburg High Court. In terms of current South African law, such acts are prohibited and considered either as culpable homicide or murder.
What is at stake?
Legalising the active killing of a human being has far reaching consequences, beyond just that of the specific individuals whose lives would be ended because of these actions. There are serious risks involved in deciding, as a society, that the primary content of one’s inherent worth or human dignity is one’s quality of life. That would logically lead to the conclusion that some people’s lives are (inherently) worth less because of the lesser degree of quality of their lived experience. Such a view of the world is at odds with South Africa’s dignity and equality legal philosophy under our Constitution which regards all people to be equal in inherent dignity. If it were to be decided that quality of life is all there is to one’s inherent worth/dignity, we will embark on a dark road that will see killing becoming an acceptable solution not only to physical pain and suffering due to terminal illness, but also socio-economic hardship, psychological suffering, old age, disabilities and any other condition, natural or pathological, that negatively affects a person’s quality of life.
Because human beings do, in fact, have inherent worth, the law could not permit doctors, who take oaths to save and protect lives, to kill a person because of the diminishing quality of life, and pain or suffering they might be experiencing as a result of sickness.
Where do things stand?
CFJ has been admitted as an amicus curiae party (a friend of the court) to this matter. Our evidence and arguments will focus on convincing the court that euthanasia is a violation of the fundamental rights to human dignity and life, resulting in horrifying consequences where it has been legalised – which is why it should not be decriminalised under the South African Constitution.
Due to Dr Walter and Mr Harck’s serious illnesses and the fact that in both of their cases, their health is deteriorating fast, the hearing of their oral evidence was expediated and heard earlier this year in March.
The case is expected to proceed to trial in late 2021. In the meanwhile, and leading up to the trial, we will continue with all necessary preparations to present a strong case in court.
CFJ also acted as a friend of the court in the first euthanasia case under the South African Constitution. In the Stransham-Ford case, the Supreme Court of Appeal held that it is indeed a criminal office to commit either PAS or PAE in terms of South African law and the Constitution.
THE UNITED NATIONS CONVENTION ON THE RIGHTS OF PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES
The South African Law Reform Commission (SALRC) has embarked on a process to domesticate the United Nationals Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) into the South African legal system. Even though the UNCRPD with its Optional Protocol has been ratified by South Africa, to date it has not been incorporated into our local law.
The purpose of the UNCRPD is to: “promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity”.
CFJ delivered written submissions to the SALRC at the end of June 2021. In these submissions we focused on advancing the constitutional value of dignity, and rights to human dignity and life of persons with disabilities, focusing on selective abortion and euthanasia. According to UN human rights experts “disability should never be a ground or justification to end someone’s life directly or indirectly”.
We drew the attention of the SALRC to the fact that in the process of domestication, South African law should explicitly provide that persons with disabilities have inherent dignity and equal worth with all other members of the human family – both before and after birth.
UN human rights experts have recently “expressed alarm at a growing trend to enact legislation enabling access to medically assisted dying based largely on having a disability or disabling conditions”, which is indicative of “assumptions about the inherent ‘quality of life’ or ‘worth’ of the life of a person with a disability”.
We implored the SALRC to give due consideration to these issues and highlighted the drastic consequences that could ensue if there are no protections for the vulnerable and disabled.
To learn about this important cause – read our latest press release.
The South African Constitution recognises and values the intrinsic worth of human beings – their inherent human dignity; it also recognises that human dignity and human life are intertwined – practically inseparable.
Cause For Justice is committed to ensuring that South African laws advance the foundational constitutional values of human dignity and life and protects and promotes the full and equal enjoyment of constitutional rights and freedoms by all members of the human family.
If you are passionate about protecting the sanctity of life, we invite you to support our work. Without your contribution, we will not be able to continue taking up worthy causes such as these.