Cape Town - Even with the best laws and legislative measures in place, medically assisted suicides are still seen as taboo in countries which have adopted the practice of euthanasia.
This sentiment came out during a conference by the World Federation of Right to Die Societies which was held in Cape Town this weekend.
The conference saw medical practitioners, politicians and civil society organisations meet to discuss the status quo, what works and doesn’t in requests of terminally ill patients who want to end their lives.
South African laws do not support medically assisted suicides. The closest the country has ever come to allowing it was in the case of Robin Stransham-Ford, who was granted permission by the Pretoria High Court in 2015 only for it to be overturned by the Supreme Court in 2016.
Founder of DignitySA, Professor Sean Davison, said that the Stransham-Ford case would pave the way for law reform to allow for euthanasia for the terminally ill.
“Three years ago, we had the Stransham-Ford case which was overturned by the Supreme Court of Appeals, and they said go back and do it again. Now we are going to have a longer case, with Dr Sue Walter. She is terminally ill and it is going to be interesting,” he said.
“It has taken this long for South Africa to change its laws because of the politicians. They are too reluctant to listen to the arguments and engage in the debate because it is too controversial.
“So the question that needs to be asked is what kind of country allows its terminally ill and elderly to suffer horrendously at the end of their life because the issue is too controversial?”
For Canada, which legalised euthanasia last year, the practice has brought relief and a sense of honour to those who work to assist patients in dying.
Dr Ellen Wiebe said, based on research, many of those working with medically assisted suicide still experience challenges when dealing with hospitals and care-facilities but felt rewarded in lending a hand.
“I was a doctor for 40 years before working with assisted death, so I had this conversation with patients a number of times before death around keeping them as comfortable as possible.”
Others at the conference took euthanasia a step further.
Philip Nitschke, director of the pro-euthanasia group Exit International, believed it was time to move away from the medical model of euthanasia and to give any rational adult the freedom to choose to end their lives.
“The medical model has seen its day and needs to be wheeled out with the rubbish. Over the last 20 years we have seen legislation come in focused around the medical model.
“Australia now has a law which is extremely restrictive, there are so many safeguards, it is so safe it is unworkable. You are going to be damn near dead to qualify.
“The law has come to its natural use-by date. Let us look for something that is better and different, the human rights model. Exit International’s position is that all rational adults have the right to a peaceful, elective death at the time of their choosing, not just sick ones.”
Nitschke’s organisation is in the process of developing a “do-it-yourself” euthanasia machine called the Sarco, which is a 3D-printed capsule where death can take place.
“This machine gives you the chance to die electively with elegance and style at the time of your choosing,” said Nitschke.
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