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No appetite for euthanasia reform

Publish date: 08 July 2019
Issue Number: 831
Diary: IBA Legalbrief Africa
Category: South Africa

Faced with a very long prison sentence if convicted of murder, Professor Sean Davison recently concluded a court-approved plea and sentencing deal in pleading guilty to three counts of murder. For all three cases he received an eight-year prison sentence wholly suspended, with three years’ conditional house arrest and community service. Donald Dinnie – CEO of Natmed Medical Defence – says it is interesting to compare this case with the ‘rather quaint outcome’ of the 1975 judgment in State v Hartmann. In an analysis on the Daily Maverick site, Dinnie notes Hartmann was sentenced to imprisonment for one year and to be detained only until the rising of the court – with the balance of the sentence suspended for one year – subject to the condition that during that period he was not to commit an offence involving the intentional infliction of bodily injury. Dinnie says Davison’s reconsideration of his position in his latest trial was influenced by the enormous financial costs he was exposed to in litigating the three prosecutions, the severe penalties he faced if convicted following trial, and also the comments of the SCA in the 2016 judgment in Minister of Justice and Correctional Services and Others v Estate Late James Stransham-Ford and Others. ‘The SCA firmly said that physician-assisted euthanasia constitutes the crime of murder and a medical practitioner who administers a lethal agent to a patient at the latter’s request carries out the crime of murder.’ However, Dinnie points to the Project 86 report of November 1998 by the SA Law Commission entitled ‘Euthanasia and the artificial preservation of life’. While this did not make any specific recommendation regarding the act of voluntary euthanasia, it set out various options.

Euthanasia and the artificial preservation of life

Minister of Justice and Correctional Services and Others v Estate Late James Stransham-Ford and Others

State v Hartmann

Full analysis on the Daily Maverick site