South African Supreme Court to hear appeal seeking Legalization of ‘Assisted Death’ as Backed by Tutu


South Africa’s Supreme Court of Appeal will this week consider whether to enforce a legal ruling that would see the country become the eighth nation to allow the terminally ill to be assisted to die in a cause that’s been publicly backed by Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

The Bloemfontein-based court on Nov. 4 will consider an appeal by South Africa’s Department of Health after a High Court ruling last year allowing Robert Stransham-Ford to die with the assistance of a doctor. Stransham-Ford died naturally on the same day of the ruling.

“The state is imposing this prohibition,” Bonita Meyersfeld, the director of the Centre For Applied Legal Studies, which has been allowed to submit arguments in the case supporting the right to die, said at a press conference in Johannesburg on Monday. “The options left to a person in this situation is unbearable suffering or suicide.”

If the appeal is dismissed, the health department can take the case to the country’s Constitutional Court as a final step. Failure to overturn the ruling there would see South Africa join the several European countries, Colombia, Canada and five states in the U.S. in allowing the practice.

Tutu last month wrote in the Washington Post that he should be allowed to be “treated with compassion and allowed to pass on to the next phase of life’s journey in the manner of my choice.” Still, it’s meeting opposition from religious groups in South Africa and the government, which argues that it could lead to “suicide contagion.”

“Denying a terminally ill person of sound mind the choice to end their life with the assistance of a willing doctor amounts to torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment,” the Centre for Applied Legal Studies, which seeks to provide testimony from medical professionals who operate in countries that allow the practice and has been accepted as a ‘friend of the court’, said in a statement.