Human Exceptionalism

South African Judge Approves Mercy Murder

I was once spoke in South Africa at a biomedical conference in Cape Town against euthanasia. I was the opening keynote and I mentioned that it would be both a tragedy and a travesty if a country in which large swaths of formerly oppressed people–with limited access to quality medical care–legalized euthanasia. 

More, I argued that legalizing killing doctor-administered death among a population in which some 20% were infected with HIV/AIDS would open the door to the worst kind of discrimination.

My speech was very favorably received, including by the first black head of the South African Medical Association, who spoke after me and declared that his country’s (then) irrational and unscientific policy to fight HIV ”is euthanasia!”

All efforts to legalize euthanasia there have gone nowhere. What to do? Just have judge issue an order. As one has. From the AP story:

A terminally ill man has been granted the right to end his life in South Africa, where euthanasia is illegal. For the first time in South Africa, Judge Hans Fabricius on Thursday ruled that Robin Stransham-Ford could be euthanized with no legal or professional consequences for the doctor who will participate.

Stransham-Ford, 65, only has weeks to live, said rights group DignitySA, who supported the court bid and picketed outside the courthouse in the capital Pretoria. Stransham-Ford has prostate cancer, leaving him in constant pain. The medication used to manage his pain leaves him constantly sedated, the group said.

In other words, his pain can be alleviated. But that’s not good enough, so let’s open the door to killing.

The judge dissembled, pretending he wasn’t breaking the spine of the law and spitting in the face of democratic processes:

This decision was not an endorsement of the End of Life Decision draft bill, the judge said. The proposed assisted suicide legislation was submitted to the justice and health departments 17 years ago and has languished there.

Please.  That’s like pushing a boulder down a steep slope and then shrugging that it wasn’t your fault that the resulting avalanche wiped out the town.

A judge permitting euthanasia–even though against the law–was precisely how the horrors of the Netherlands were unleashed. Unless stopped on appeal, it will be worse in South Africa, putting the troubled country on a path in which the destitute and those still suffering from the evil after-effects of Apartheid will face a new form of potential oppression in which killing short-circuits the great effort required craft an effective and widely available palliative care sector.

Update: Ford died naturally before he could be killed.

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