Stransham-Ford v. Minister of Justice and Correctional Services and Others: Can active voluntary euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide be legally justified and are they consistent with the biomedical ethical principles? Some suggested guidelines for doct
The recent case of Stransham-Ford v Minister of Justice and Correctional Services and Others held that voluntary active euthanasia and doctor assisted suicide may be legally justified in certain circumstances. The court observed that the distinction between ‘active’ and ‘passive’ voluntary euthanasia is not legally tenable as in both instances the doctors concerned have the ‘actual’ or ‘eventual’ intention to terminate the patient’s life and have caused or hastened the patient’s death. It is argued that as the South African Constitution is the supreme law of the country, the fundamental rights of patients guaranteed in the Constitution cannot be undermined by ethical duties imposed on health care practitioners by international and national professional bodies. The court in the Stransham-Ford case did not use ethical theories and principles to decide the matter. It simply applied the values in the Constitution and the provisions of the Bill of Rights. However, in order to assist medical practitioners with practical guidelines with which many of them are familiar - rather than complicated unfamiliar philosophical arguments - the biomedical ethical principles of patient autonomy, beneficence, non-maleficence and justice or fairness are applied to active voluntary euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide in the context of the Stransham-Ford case. Although the case has not set a precedent or opened the floodgates to doctor-assisted voluntary active euthanasia and it is open to Parliament, the Constitutional Court or other courts to develop the concept or outlaw it, some guidelines are offered for doctors to consider should they be authorized by a court to assist with voluntary active euthanasia.
David Jan McQuoid-Mason, Centre for Socio-Legal Studies, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South AFrica
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Date published: 2015-11-26
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