How we die is a question that concerns every single mortal being. Recent events have put this question in the spotlight. In August 2014 Parliamentarian Mario Oriani-Ambrosini, terminally ill, in the last stages of lung cancer hastened his imminent death by shooting himself. Our revered Madiba lingered for months hooked up to machines after doctors declared him to be in “permanent vegetative state”. In July 2014 Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu declared himself to be in favour of assisted dying should he ever find himself terminally ill and/or in a situation of intractable, unbearable suffering.
On October 4th 2014 DignitySA, a group committed to lobbying for changes that address the question of dignity and quality of life when we are dying met with a panel of expert lawyers to plan our way forward.
It is sadly ironic that it was under Madiba’s tenure, as our first democratic President, that a South African Law Commission was appointed to look into issues pertaining to dying well. In 1999, the commission, chaired by the late Justice Mahomed published its findings and recommendations. It is unfortunate that this important document and its recommendations continue to languish on the shelves of Parliament.
This means that for the last 15 years the State has not fulfilled its Constitutional obligation to respect, protect and promote its citizens’ fundamental human rights (as contained in the Bill of Rights in Chapter 2 of the Constitution) to:
- inherent dignity and to have their dignity respected and protected (Section 10 of the Bill of Rights)
- life, in respect of which death is an undeniable and ultimate part (Section 11 of the Bill of Rights)
- not be treated in a cruel, inhuman or degrading way (Section 12(1)(e) of the Bill of Rights)
- bodily and psychological integrity and security and controlling of their bodies (Section 12(2) and 12(2)(b) of the Bill of Rights)
Hereinafter referred to collectively as “Constitutionally guaranteed fundamental human rights”.
One of the measures that DignitySA will take is to approach the Ministers for Health, Justice and Constitutional Development, and Social Welfare and the respective Parliamentary Committees, to review the Law Commission Report and to reconsider in the light of recent developments both nationally and globally, those rights to personal dignity which would bring untold relief to untold numbers of our citizens who are terminally ill.
A second measure is to initiate a court case as DignitySA has been approached by several citizens who are terminally ill and distressed that their Constitutionally guaranteed fundamental human rights won’t be respected, protected and promoted and that they will die without dignity.
DignitySA has therefore decided to collaborate with attorneys, counsel and senior counsel, who are offering their services pro bono, to bring a case to the High Court in the first quarter of 2015. This is a matter which concerns all South Africans whatever their age, race, gender or religion; on this basis DignitySA will endeavor to support a representative group of applicants.
Court cases can drag on, and it is possible that some of the applicants may die before the positive outcome in court that DignitySA anticipates. We therefor urge that parliamentarians act to take further the work completed in 1999 and expedite an urgent bill through parliament –thus making Dignity’s High court case redundant. This would be the first prize for all concerned and a positive and powerful step towards making our constitution live, even when people are dying.
Administration & Office:
Cell 076 – 942 4477
Fax 021 – 959 1325
Dignity South Africa
PO Box 927
Cape Town 8000
Thank you for your support!
Dignity South Africa – Legalise Assisted Dying | my life ~ my choice