The Corner

Politics & Policy

African MDs Reject Euthanasia

Back in early 2002, I was invited to offer an opening keynote speech against euthanasia at a South African bioethics conference. In my presentation, I noted that one-in-four (at the time) South Africans were infected with HIV, and asked rhetorically whether the country would actually kill these patients rather than provide proper care.

The head of the S. African Medical Association (I believe all these years later) followed me with a powerful speech in which he inveighed against legalizing assisted suicide and stated that his country’s official AIDS policy “is euthanasia!” He made the front page of the Capetown Times–which thrilled me since a few years earlier, as a black African criticizing his government, the doctor would have almost surely been thrown in prison next to Mandela on Robben Island.

All of these years later, I am pleased to report that African doctors want to improve palliative care in the region–definitely needed–and still disapprove of euthanasia. From the News Agency of Nigeria story:

The World Medical Association (WMA), African region has called for strengthening of palliative care for patients with terminally ill ailments across Africa.The president, however, said African region rejected physicians assisted suicide and Euthanasia, describing them as contrary to the physician’s oath…The oath stipulates “I will not use my medical knowledge to violate human rights and civil liberties even under threat’’, he said.

It is good to know that African doctors have not forgotten the profession’s venerable stand against the active killing of patients. Contemporary doctors in the West could learn from their African colleagues.

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