Feuding MPs have no time for matters of life and death

07 December 2016 - 10:01 By The Times Editorial
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If parliament would only do its job, the courts would not have to be constantly roped in to decide issues that should be debated by MPs.

But with nearly every parliamentary session degenerating into a fight between the red berets and President Jacob Zuma, we wonder when meaningful matters will be ventilated.

Yesterday, the state and the Health Professions' Council won their appeal against a High Court judgment that gave a dying man the go-ahead for a doctor-assisted suicide - but the original applicant, Robin Stransham-Ford, died two hours before the ruling was given.

The case was dismissed because "death had extinguished his claim" and, therefore, the High Court judgment had no value.

But if the Department of Health and the minister of justice think yesterday's win means the issue is going away they are mistaken.

The issue is important and topical: four NGOs and an academic had asked to be recognised as friends of the court in the Supreme Court of Appeal hearing, arguing for or against the right to die.

The court has made it clear that this is an issue that should be decided by parliament.

Supreme Court of Appeal Judge Malcolm Wallis remarked that he would "welcome" parliament being involved in the debate about doctor-assisted suicide.

The High Court judge, Hans Fabricius, said it was a difficult issue for one man to decide.

"The ideal would have been that the legislature consider the whole topic and then produce a bill that could be subject to the scrutiny of the courts," Fabricius said.

He noted that the SA Law Commission compiled a report on "Euthanasia and the artificial preservation of life" in November 1998, which was submitted to the minister of health in 1999: "It is now 16 years hence," he said last year.

Parliament remains silent, failing to guide society in dealing with, as Wallis put it, "moral questions beyond the remit of judges".