Living Wills – The right to die with dignity

Category: Wills

24 May 2015  |  by Hayley Pillay

In the recent ground breaking case of Advocate Robin Stransham-Ford who was terminally ill from prostate cancer, Judge Hans Fabricius ruled that a doctor could euthanise Robin Stransham-Ford without legal or professional consequences. Unfortunately Stransham-Ford died before hearing the landmark ruling.

Right to Dignity a Fundamental Right

In his application, Stransham-Ford who was a well-known advocate in Cape Town, argued that it was a violation of his human right to dignity, which is a fundamental right as prescribed in our South African Bill of Rights. The judge ruled that Stransham-Ford was mentally competent and voluntarily wanted assisted suicide, and that doctors who assisted him would not be held accountable criminally or civilly.

Living Will a Declaration of Non-Consent

A Living Will is a document which is meant to stand as a declaration of one’s non-consent to artificial life-support in circumstances where one is unable to express this verbally.  It states that the author was of sound mind and senses at the time of making this declaration. One of the clauses in this Living Will states: “I wish it to be understood that I fear mental deterioration, uncontrollable pain, degeneration and indignity far more than I fear death. I ask my medical attendants to bear this statement in mind when considering what my intentions would be in any uncertain situation.”

Constitutional Right to Die with Dignity

After the judgment made in the Stransham-Ford case, it is clear that the Constitutional right to dignity also includes the right to die with dignity. If you agree with this ruling, you should have a properly drafted and executed Living Will to provide direction to your family and doctors in the unfortunate event that you are unable to express your desire to die with dignity and you require an “assisted death.”