In Practice

Assisted suicide and assisted voluntary euthanasia: Stransham-Ford High Court case overruled by the Appeal Court – but the door is left open

David J McQuoid-Mason


Whether persons wishing to have doctor-assisted suicide or voluntary active euthanasia may make a court application based on their rights in the Constitution has not been answered by the Appeal Court. Therefore, if Parliament does not intervene beforehand, such applications can be made – provided the applicants have legal standing, full arguments are presented regarding local and foreign law, and the application evidence is comprehensive and accurate. The Appeal Court indicated that the question should be answered by Parliament because ‘issues engaging profound moral questions beyond the remit of judges to determine, should be decided by the representatives of the people of the country as a whole’. However, the Government has not implemented any recommendations on doctor-assisted suicide and voluntary active euthanasia made by the South African Law Commission 20 years ago. The courts may still develop the law on doctor-assisted death, which may take into account developments in medical practice. Furthermore, ‘the possibility of a special defence for medical practitioners or carers would arise and have to be explored’.

Author's affiliations

David J McQuoid-Mason, Centre for Socio-Legal Studies, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa

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Medical law; Voluntary active euthanasia; Doctor-assisted suicide; Doctor-assisted death; Court order; Door open

Cite this article

South African Medical Journal 2017;107(5):381-382. DOI:10.7196/SAMJ.2017.v107i5.12450

Article History

Date submitted: 2017-04-25
Date published: 2017-04-25

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