[JURIST] A South African judge ruled Thursday that a terminally ill man has a right to assisted suicide with no legal or professional consequences for the participating doctor. Euthanasia is illegal in South Africa, and the decision is the first of its kind. With the support of DignitySA [advocacy website], Robin Stransham-Ford, a 65-year-old man with prostate cancer, filed a motion with the court asking that he be allowed to choose the time and location of his death with assistance form a licensed medical practitioner. The order clarifies that it “shall not be read as endorsing the proposals of the draft Bill on End of Life as contained in the Law and Commission Report of November 1998 (Project 86) as laying down the necessary or only conditions for the entitlement to the assistance of a qualified medical doctor to commit suicide.” The proposed assisted suicide legislation has languished since 1998 when it was submitted to the justice and health departments. The Justice Department plans to appeal Thursday’s decision.
The right to die [JURIST news archive] has been a contentious issue in the US and around the world. In February the Supreme Court of Canada struck down [JURIST report] the country’s ban on medically assisted suicide. Also that month a group of patients and doctors filed a lawsuit in a New York court requesting a declaration [JURIST report] that physician-assisted suicide is not illegal under New York state law. In January California lawmakers introduced [JURIST report] a bill [SB 128, PDF] to permit patients who meet specific criteria the right to medically end their lives. In 2006 the US Supreme Court upheld Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act [JURIST report], making Oregon the only US state that allowed assisted suicide at that time. Vermont, Washington, New Mexico and Montana now also allow assisted suicide. Possibly the most contentious right to die case ended in 2005, when Terri Schiavo [JURIST op-ed] passed away following a heated legal battle between family members on whether to artificially maintain her life in a vegetative state.