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Dignity in death and physician-administered euthanasia: the South African journey so far and likely journey in future.

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Although the acceptance of physician assisted suicide and euthanasia has gained acceptance in some countries with different safeguards, it is still not accepted in South Africa either by omission or commission. Some of the arguments for euthanasia are to relieve patients of extreme pain and it protects the dignity of terminally ill patients, who do not wish that their lives be devalued. The major arguments against the practice are based on perspectives from moral, religious and ethical views. This research examined euthanasia and its position in South Africa and other countries. It also studied how the Constitution in relation to the request for physician assisted suicide protects the right to life, the right to human dignity of persons and respect for patient’s autonomy among others. Its aim is to further promote public awareness on the topic. The research was achieved by reviewing literature. The law in South Africa accepts the practice of passive euthanasia which includes the withdrawal or withholding of life sustaining medications where the physician feels that the treatment if continued would be futile. In such case, the doctor is free from criminal liability. Also, they will not be liable when they dispense pain relieving drugs which may later cause the death of a critically ill patient. The stand in South Africa is not static since a patient is permitted by law to stop or refuse the continuation of a life prolonging treatment even if it could lead to his or her death. The few recommendations from the South African Law Commission are yet to be looked into by the Parliament and this has caused a huge setback on reaching a final conclusion about the legality of the practice in South Africa. In cases regarding euthanasia or physician assisted suicide, the courts have decided that each case should be determined by its own merits. The courts have also shifted the responsibility to decide on the topic to the Parliament, being the representative of the people. This has poised a great threat. Result has shown that physician-administered euthanasia, though not legalised in South Africa is not strange to the practice and the courts could be approached. It is an infringement of a person’s dignity not to allow a suffering terminally ill person to be euthanased by their doctor to alleviate their unbearable suffering.


Masters Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.