COPE to introduce living will Bill to Parliament

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Congress of the People (COPE) MP Deidre Carter is planning to introduce a Bill to Parliament that will explicitly allow for living wills to be recognised and allow for terminally ill patients to refuse medical treatment that could prolong their lives.

Carter is quoted in The Times as saying that while the National Health Act provides for the right of a user to refuse health services and that a health service may not be provided to a user without the user’s informed consent‚ it is still ambiguous and health professionals were uncertain and feared adverse legal consequences.

She said the objective of her draft National Health Amendment Bill is to ensure the recognition and enforcement of advance healthcare directives within the National Health Act. This was one of the recommendations of the SA Law Commission put before parliament for consideration back in 1999‚ when the commission looked into issues pertaining to end-of-life decisions and dying with dignity.

Carter drafted her private member’s Bill with the help of DignitySA‚ a lobby group campaigning for the right to assisted dying.

DignitySA’s Willem Landman is quoted in the report as saying that the Bill was about 20 years overdue‚ since the Law Commission’s 1999 report recommended advance healthcare directives that enable competent people to express their preferences and give instructions about such possible future situations through a living will or a durable power of attorney for healthcare.

Landman explained that the living will and durable power of attorney for healthcare are two instruments that enable a patient to make certain decisions when life is no longer worth living.

“There are specific instruments that come into operation when a patient no longer has the ability to make contemporaneous decisions because of incompetence – decisions relating to the end of life or termination of life by simply refusing treatment‚” said Landman.

“It’s very important to bear in mind that for any treatment we need to give informed consent. To be treated against our will is recognised in our law‚ confirmed by the Supreme Court of Appeal‚ to constitute assault‚” he explained.

The Times report

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