After preventing anti-abortion intern Dr Jacques de Vos for more than three years from completing his medical training, the Health Professions Council of SA has abruptly dropped all charges, writes MedicalBrief. But De Vos' lawyer has slammed the personal and career costs to the wheel-chair bound intern and accused the HPCSA of waging a dishonest vendetta.
It's the HPCSA's third high profile disciplinary action failure in recent years. Protracted multi-million rand disciplinary actions against Prof Tim Noakes —over his championing in social media of the Banting diet — and Dr Wouter Basson — over his role in the apartheid government's secret medical programmes — have all collapsed in chaos.
Noakes' hearings appeals took place over three years. At one stage, the HPCSA issued contradictory statements within hours of one another, the one declaring Noakes guilty of unprofessional conduct, the other declaring him not guilty.
Basson's matter took five years of hearings and court appeals and is effectively dead in the water after the Constitutional Court in February 2020 refused to hear an HPCSA appeal. A High Court judgment had described the HPCSA actions as a “comedy of errors”.
The failed and apparently questionable proceedings against De Vos will raise further questions about HPCSA competence.
De Vos was suspended by the HPCSA after allegedly telling an abortion patient that a foetus was a human being and that the procedure was “murder”. De Vos was only a week short of finishing his medical degree in the military, before he did his community service training, when the HPCS charged him with unprofessional conduct. He has been in medical limbo since 30 June 2017.
De Vos was charged for disrespecting his patient's dignity, accentuating his personal and religious beliefs over his patient's rights, distributing pamphlets at work about his beliefs and failing to remain objective. He pleaded not guilty and said that his views on abortion were based on science rather than religion.
Midway through his unprofessional conduct hearing last year, the disciplinary committee had decided to set aside two other charges relating to De Vos allegedly distributing pamphlets that imposed his religious beliefs, and that he attempted to influence his colleagues through text messages.
This week the HPCSA's spokesperson Priscilla Sekhonyana said: “The HPCSA has received an affidavit from the complainant indicating that she no longer wishes to proceed with the complaint that was filed against Dr De Vos. She further advised that she does not wish to testify against Dr De Vos nor participate in the hearing. Based on this decision by the complainant, the HPCSA has no alternative but to withdraw the charges against Dr De Vos.”
Attorney Martus de Wet told MedicalBrief that there never had been a formal complaint by the woman seeking an abortion, and that, in fact, the complaint had been filed by two of De Vos' superiors at 2 Military Hospital in Wynberg. He said that the impression that the HPCSA was creating by stating that the complainant “has now withdrawn” the complaint, was deliberately misleading.
De Wet said that he believes that one of the reasons that the complaint was dropped was because the HPCSA had been unable to meet the defence team's demands, filed in 2018, for a copy of the complainant’s complaint. The HSPCA had been unable to provide one.
De Vos's advocate, Keith Matthee, wrote in the heads of argument for the acquittal of De Vos — which had been delayed several times by the alleged failure of the HPCSA to provide the defence with documents and timeously to set a hearing date — that the defence had submitted testimony from three experts that an abortion could result in long-term adverse emotional and psychological damage to the mother, and that a foetus was human life. The HPCSA had entered no rebutting testimony.
In a TimesLIVE report, Matthee is quoted as arguing for a probe into the circumstances leading to the matter having initially been brought. “De Vos has bent over backwards to try and facilitate the speedy resolution of his hearing, including agreeing to make assumptions about the charges against him and very timeously going to great effort to obtain the expert evidence of three extremely well-qualified and experienced experts, and giving the Medical Council more than enough time to respond if it wanted to. Here, it must be remembered that the Medical Council should have responded to everything above, long before the state of lockdown was declared.”Full TimesLIVE report
SEE ALSOHPCSA’s ‘flagrant disregard’ for rights of anti-abortion medic — MP
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