Diethelm Harck, 71, who suffers from motor-neuron disease and his former doctor, Suzanne Walter, 47, a palliative care specialist who is suffering from multiple myeloma, are asking the court to change the law of barring doctors from assisting terminal patients to die. Picture: File
Diethelm Harck, 71, who suffers from motor-neuron disease and his former doctor, Suzanne Walter, 47, a palliative care specialist who is suffering from multiple myeloma, are asking the court to change the law of barring doctors from assisting terminal patients to die. Picture: File

’Everyone should have choice to decide to end their lives when final point is reached’

By Zelda Venter Time of article published Mar 2, 2021

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Everyone should have the choice to decide to end their lives when the final point in their lives is reached. The choice of death is an individual and personal matter.

This is according to Diethelm Harck, 71, who suffers from motor-neuron disease. He and his former doctor, Suzanne Walter, 47, a palliative care specialist who is suffering from multiple myeloma, are asking the Johannesburg high court to change the law of barring doctors from assisting terminal patients to die.

The pair, who are suffering from life threatening illnesses, want the government to enact legislation which would allow for physician-assisted suicide and/or euthanasia.

While the actual legal challenge will only be heard later this year, special arrangements were made for Harck and Walter to so long give their evidence this week.

Harck was, on the second day of taking the stand during virtual proceedings, questioned by counsel acting for the health and justice minister, who are opposing the application.

Advocate Vas Soni SC, at length questioned Harck about his medical condition. Soni pointed out that in 2013 a neurosurgeon made a “presumptive diagnosis” that Harck suffered from motor-neuron disease.

The specialist, however, at the time said Harck needed to be re-evaluated in future, which was never done.

Hack, however, said his deterioration was slow over the years and while he still has some quality of life, the time will come when the illness reaches such a state that he would have lost all quality of life.

“When I reach the final point, I want the right to choose,” Hack said.

He said his case is not only to obtain permission for himself to either be assisted to die by means of euthenasia or physician assisted death when the time came, but also for all those South Africans who wished to follow this route.

Soni pointed out that while some countries do allow for assisted death, there were restrictions in all cases.

He said in Oregon in the US, for instance, Harck would not qualify for physician assisted death as he was not given a specific time limit on how long he still had to live.

To qualify for physician assisted death in that state, Soni said, a patient had to be diagnosed with a terminal illness which would lead to death within six months, which was not the case with Harck.

In Canada and in the Netherlands, a patient had to prove that his or her pain was intolerable and that death was in the immediate future.

This, Soni said, while Harck testified that he did not suffer any pain at this stage.

Harck, however, questioned how a doctor could determine exactly how long a patient naturally had left to live.

His stance is that not only physical pain must determined when the time came to opt for assisted suicide, but also when the emotional and psychological suffering became too much.

Soni further pointed out that while Harck is asking for the law to change in regards to all South Africans, there are certain communities here who value life and those who are not in an economic position to opt for this choice.

Harck responded that in the end, it is an individual choice which everyone must be allowed to make for themselves, whether they are in a privileged position or not to do so.

He denied he is a crusader for euthanasia, but he believed it is rather a personal choice which people should be allowed to make.

Pretoria News

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