Euthanasia: When time comes I want doctor to administer lethal dose - Diethelm Harck
Pretoria - In spite of a lot of literature being available online about self administered suicide, Diethelm Harck, 71, who suffers from motor-neuron disease, is adamant that when the time comes and he chooses to go this route, he wants a doctor to administer a lethal dose which would kill him.
Harck took the stand - virtually from his Western Cape home - for the third day in his application, together with his palliative care physician, Sue Walter, for the law to change which is barring doctors from assisting terminally ill patients to die.
Both he and Walter, who suffer from multiple myeloma, said when the time comes and they feel the need to, they want to opt for euthanasia or the assisted suicide route.
While their legal challenge is due to only be heard later this year in the Johannesburg high court, the pair are now testifying before a commissioner, as they are not sure what the future holds for them.
Harck, the first to testify, has been under cross examination for the second consecutive day.
Counsel for the Health Professions Council of South Africa, Advocate Adrian D’Óliveira, questioned Harck at length as to why he wanted to go this route.
He pointed out that while the HPCSA was against assisted suicide and euthanasia, there was a lot of literature on the subject available.
But Harck maintained that he did not know what the future holds for him.
“I don’t know how long It will be able before I want to take my life. When the time comes, I want to make the choice to have a medical doctor assist me,” he said.
Harck stressed that while he loved life at this stage and “absolutely” did not want to die now, he feared when the time came when he wanted to die, he could not.
D’Oliveira also pointed out that palliative medical specialists were also able to render terminally ill patients unconscious when the time came.
“No person needs to experience the type of pain you are afraid of...Thus there is no need to change the law to provide for assisted suicide,” the advocate said.
Harck, however, said palliative induced unconsciousness is not always effective. He said it was his human right to decide whether he wanted to die when the time came.
The primary decision should be with the patient, he said.
DÓliveira also said that the HPCSA will argue that if the court changed the law, it would be open to abuse.
People may feel pressured to choose euthanasia, due to family pressures.
On the other hand, people can be murdered under the guise of euthanasia and assisted suicide, by unscrupulous doctors acting in collusion with the HPCSA, DÓliveira said.
Thus, the HPCSA is in a very difficult position, the advocate said, as the law, if passed, can be abused.
The public health system will also not be able to accommodate euthanasea or medical assisted suicide, D’Oliveira said.
“A small population has the benefit of private health care, The majority must use an overburdened public health care system,” the advocate said.
He referred to Esidimeni where more than 100 vulnerable people died due to lack of care.
DÓliveira said it’s the case of the HPCSA that where there is a lack of resources or proper care, doctors armed with legislation making euthanasia and assisted suicide legal, could abuse this.