Life Esidimeni deaths: Can the former MEC for health and public health officials escape liability for the deaths of the mental-health patients on the basis of obedience to ‘superior orders’ or because the officials under them were negligent?
Arising out of the reported evidence in the Life Esidimeni Arbitration hearings into the deaths of mental-health patients, the question arises as to whether the former member of the executive committee (MEC) for health, the mental health director, the head of the department of health and the project manager can use the defence of ‘superior orders’ to escape criminal or civil liability. Can the former MEC for health escape liability, by blaming the mental health director, the head of the department of health and the project manager for the deaths, as she did in her evidence? It is suggested that based on the reported evidence, neither the former MEC for health nor the mental health director, the head of the department of health nor the project manager can escape liability for negligently causing the deaths of the patients. They could all be prosecuted for culpable homicide, and in some instances – depending on the results of the arbitration hearings – be held liable to compensate surviving mentally ill patients for physical or psychological harm, and the families of deceased patients for psychological harm.