Basson's new bid to wriggle off apartheid hook

DEFENSIVE: Wouter Basson
DEFENSIVE: Wouter Basson

Wouter Basson‚ dubbed Dr Death for his role in apartheid South Africa’s chemical warfare project‚ is making a new attempt to avoid punishment.

Basson is going to the Pretoria High Court on February 9 to claim that the process followed by the Health Professionals Council of South Africa when it found him guilty of unethical conduct was not fair.

The cardiologist‚ who has a private practice at Durbanville MediClinic‚ is also at the centre of a storm at Stellenbosch University‚ where for almost a year after the HPCSA finding he continued to tutor medical students in a public-private partnership with MediClinic Southern Africa.

The HPCSA did not sentence Basson in 2013 because he and his legal team stormed out‚ and critics say his court action is yet another attempt to find a legal loophole to be avoid punishment.

The charges of which he was found guilty included‚ among others‚ the production of deadly drugs and other substances to be used against “enemies” of the apartheid state‚ the provision of substances to tranquilise victims for over-the-border kidnapping exercises‚ and the provision of lethal cyanide capsules for members of special units to commit suicide.

Dr Mzukisi Grootboom‚ spokesman for the South African Medical Association‚ says the association still supports the HPCSA finding that he was guilty of unethical conduct.

“Doctors around the world support an idea through the Hippocratic Oath and many other conventions adopted that you cannot use your medical knowledge to facilitate the taking of a life.”

He said it was “unfortunate” that during the inquiry Basson showed “no remorse” despite having had all these years to “reflect on what he did”.

 Speaking on behalf of Open Stellenbosch‚ Simone Cupido said: “We dealt directly with the medical students who described him as charming and as an expert in cardiology‚ but they found it hard to see him still sitting in that position of privilege given his history.”

She said “many students of colour felt extremely uncomfortable in his presence”.

Basson‚ however‚ says the tutorials were “voluntary” and that he had received no complaints.

Professor Keymanthri Moodley‚ head of the Centre for Medical Ethics and Law at Stellenbosch University but speaking in her own capacity‚ said several senior academics at the medical school were “acutely aware of his human rights violations” and should therefore have prevented his association with the university.

“Many students indicated that they felt extremely uncomfortable in his presence given the ‘Dr Death’ aura that hovered over their teaching sessions. Others objected based on the basic principles of medical ethics‚” she said.

On the upcoming hearing‚ Chandre Gould – a senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies who has co-authored a book on Basson — said: “The question isn’t any longer about his guilt or innocence. That judgement by his peers stands‚ and his legal team now challenging it is yet another attempt to find a loophole.”

Professor Ames Dhai‚ director of the Steve Biko Centre for Bioethics at the University of the Witwatersrand‚ said “trust and compassion” were cornerstones of the medical professional but that these had been “thrown out the window by Basson”.

She added that his expertise in cardiology did not compensate for this‚ and that there were other specialists who could have tutored the students instead.

“Competence is not just technical but ethical too‚” she said‚ and “there are huge question marks against him in light of his past”.

She said that “Stellenbosch University and MediClinic showed a total lack of sensitivity in letting him tutor students” and that it was very short-sighted of them to allow it.

The university hit back at critics‚ saying Basson was not its employee and the protocol around removing him from the role was by its nature a lengthy one.

Spokesman Martin Viljoen said the medical faculty had “never appointed or employed” Basson “in any capacity”‚ but that Basson had given a group of students training “as part of a project in partnership with MediClinic”‚ where he had his private practice.

He said the tutoring had continued for 11 months because “the same process that was followed with accreditation had to be followed with the request to withdraw his accreditation”.

MediClinic also denied responsibility for placing him in that role. Spokesman Lika Tolken said: “Doctors participate in the programme on a voluntary basis” and that Mediclinic’s “association is merely practical in nature‚ pertaining to the use of our facilities‚ [and] as such we are not in a position to select participants.”

The HPCSA’s Daphne Chuma said the organisation “does not wish to pre-empt the decision of the court and therefore can only comment on the matter once the Pretoria High Court has considered it and handed down judgement.”


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