South African Medical Journal

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Human dignity and the future of the voluntary active euthanasia debate in South Africa

D.W. Jordaan


The issue of voluntary active euthanasia was thrust into the public policy arena by the Stransham-Ford lawsuit. The High Court legalised voluntary active euthanasia – however, ostensibly only in the specific case of Mr Stransham-Ford. The Supreme Court of Appeal overturned the High Court judgment on technical grounds, not on the merits. This means that in future the courts can be approached again to consider the legalisation of voluntary active euthanasia. As such, Stransham-Ford presents a learning opportunity for both sides of the legalisation divide. In particular, conceptual errors pertaining to human dignity were made in Stransham-Ford, and can be avoided in future. In this article, I identify these errors and propose the following three corrective principles to inform future debate on the subject: (i) human dignity is violable; (ii) human suffering violates human dignity; and (iii) the ‘natural’ causes of suffering due to terminal illness do not exclude the application of human dignity.
AJOL African Journals Online