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Basson council guns for ethics expert

Expert witness Professor Steven Miles of the University of Minnesota's Medical School was cross-examined at Wouter Basson's hearing. Photo: Thobile Mathonsi

Expert witness Professor Steven Miles of the University of Minnesota's Medical School was cross-examined at Wouter Basson's hearing. Photo: Thobile Mathonsi

Published Sep 29, 2011

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Counsel for Dr Wouter Basson has tried to discredit the medical ethics expert called to testify before a disciplinary hearing of the Health Professions Council of South Africa and has accused him of making statements that were not true.

But Professor Steven Miles, from the University of Minnesota, was reluctant to concede statements put to him by advocate Jaap Cilliers, SC, and was adamant that what Basson did was unethical.

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Miles concluded his evidence on behalf of the pro forma prosecution with a visual presentation. He dealt with each of the four remaining charges against Basson, using evidence that had been given by the 61-year-old cardiologist and former head of the apartheid government’s chemical and warfare programme at his criminal trial.

The primary conclusion by Miles was that Basson, as a practising medical doctor, violated the ethics of the medical profession by being instrumental in the production of drugs and tear gas, using these chemicals in mortars and supplying substances to tranquillise kidnap victims in cross-border operations.

It had also been unethical of Basson to supply cyanide capsules to special operations commanders to distribute to troops for suicide, Miles said.

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The primary task of the medical profession was to preserve health and save life. Therefore it was unethical for physicians to use scientific knowledge to imperil health or destroy life, Miles said.

Basson scored a minor victory when the committee ruled that Miles could rely only on portions of the evidence given by Basson at his criminal trial that related directly to the charges now being heard against him.

Cilliers said portions of Basson’s evidence had been given to Miles that, under an agreement between the parties, should not have been provided.

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This led at times to somewhat heated exchanges between Basson and pro forma prosecutor Salie Joubert, SC.

But the committee ruled these portions had to be removed from the documents presented by Miles and made it clear that it would not rely on these in reaching its findings.

Cilliers grilled Miles during cross-examination and said that, as the professor had been presented with about 5 percent of the facts – based on Basson’s evidence – he had not, when he reached his conclusions about Basson, been able to see the context in which some things had been done.

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Miles also “made a lot” of the fact that Basson supplied scoline – a muscle relaxant – to operatives to be used in cross-border kidnappings. “Basson vehemently denies he ever gave this,” Cilliers said.

He asked Miles what he had based this statement on.

The charge against Basson reads that he on occasion provided disorientation substances used to tranquillise people due to be kidnapped.

Miles conceded that his evidence on this was “somewhat ambiguous”. It was, however, unethical for a doctor to provide substances for “grab operations”, he said. Miles said he read about the scoline in Basson’s evidence provided to him and inferred it was used in cross-border kidnappings.

“Scoline was definitely not mentioned in this context,” Cilliers said.

He asked what effect time had on medical ethics – as in the case of abortion laws – as the case related to from events decades ago. Miles said this was why he had relied on medical ethics in place when Basson headed the warfare programme.

(Proceeding)

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