HPCSA lets anti-abortion doctor off the hook after complainant withdraws

07 October 2020 - 12:31 By Sipokazi Fokazi
Jacques de Vos (centre), flanked by attorney Martus de Wet (left), advocate Keith Matthee and his father Phillip de Vos, seated behind in a cream jacket, at the HPCSA hearing in August 2019.
Jacques de Vos (centre), flanked by attorney Martus de Wet (left), advocate Keith Matthee and his father Phillip de Vos, seated behind in a cream jacket, at the HPCSA hearing in August 2019.
Image: Sipokazi Fokazi

An anti-abortion doctor, who was prohibited from practising medicine for three years, is off the hook after the Health Professions Council of SA (HPCSA) dropped charges of unprofessional conduct against him.

Dr Jacques de Vos, 33, allegedly told a mother who wanted an abortion that she would be a “murderer” if she went ahead.

The former intern at 2 Military Hospital in Wynberg allegedly told a patient in 2017 that a foetus was a human being. He allegedly likened abortion to killing an unborn human, while working for the gynaecology division during his intern year.

He was only a week short of finishing his medical degree before he did his community service when the council charged him, meaning his superiors could not sign his internship documents.

De Vos has not been permitted to practise as a doctor since June 30 2017.

On Tuesday the council withdrew all charges against De Vos after more than two years of delays and postponements.

Priscilla Sekhonyana, spokesperson for the council, 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.”

De Vos, who maintained that his views on abortion were based on science rather than his religious views, 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.

Charges 'malicious and fundamentally flawed'

In the heads of argument for the dismissal of the case, defence advocate Keith Matthee said he took the withdrawal as the closing of the case. This was presented after the HPCSA indicated to the six-member disciplinary committee that the complainant no longer wished to proceed with the matter.

Matthee said even though the defence had submitted “uncontradicted and unchallenged evidence” from three experts, which showed that having an abortion may result in long-term adverse emotional and psychological damage to the mother, and that a foetus is human life, the council provided no experts to rebut the said expert witnesses.

He argued that De Vos was acting in the best interests of the patient when he informed her that to have her unborn child killed could lead to long-term emotional and psychological damage to her. By saying this, De Vos was acting in accordance with “doing good, doing no harm” both to the pregnant patient and her unborn child, he said.

De Vos, he continued, was affirming the autonomy of the patient by giving her all the relevant information she needed to make an informed decision.

Mathee accused the council of not submitting any expert evidence due to it following a prosecution that was not about the complainant, but allegedly driven by a personal vendetta by some of the doctors in positions of power at 2 Military Hospital. He described the process as “malicious and fundamentally flawed from the outset”.

Matthee asked the committee to investigate the senior doctors involved, “with a view to being charged for unprofessional conduct”.

“Furthermore, we again highlight that the record will clearly show that all the delays in affording him an opportunity to defend himself have been caused by the medical council, at the instance of the said doctors, inclusive of fundamentally changing the charges against him and failing to provide him with the necessary detail to enable him to prepare his defence.” 

De Vos’s attorney, Martus de Wet, was not immediately available to comment about the outcome of the case.

De Wet previously said his client had been diagnosed with a debilitating deep-vein thrombosis 11 years ago, which resulted in him using a wheelchair.

Speaking to TimesLIVE a year ago, De Vos described the trial as a difficult time both professionally and mentally, “knowing that this has been hanging over my head ... not getting to conclusion”.

“It’s been financially difficult because I couldn’t work as a doctor. Delaying this has been to my detriment,” he said then.

“The condition I have is worsening. Doing my community service now would be more difficult than if I had done it before. Any further delay means that it will be even more difficult for me in doing community service, compared to people without disability.”