South Africa: The Right to Die Remains a Complex and Disputed Issue in South African Law


Although on the face of it South Africa's Bill of Rights supports the constitutional right to die through its clauses on life and dignity, recent judgments have left a question mark over the actual legal position. Do we, in fact, have a constitutional right to euthanasia?

Death is steeped in human fear and superstition. Jurisprudentially, death has been treated in various ways, the most obvious of which is the criminal sanctions applicable to murder and culpable homicide.

However, the law also endeavoured to control a person taking his or her own life and in certain jurisdictions suicide was considered a crime -- and in certain jurisdictions suicide is still considered to be a crime. However, the decision to take one's life in circumstances absent the motivations that may accompany suicide and in circumstances where one may be ill and suffering, is an area of the law that is contentious and continuously debated.

Euthanasia, as it is known, remains in the fog of debate in South African legal circles and has been debated both before and since the constitutional dispensation arrived along with democracy in South Africa at the turn of this century.

The debate was recently revived by a decision...

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