COPE wants legal status of living wills to be clarified

File Photo: Cope's president Mosiuoa Lekota with Deidre Carter.
File Photo: Cope's president Mosiuoa Lekota with Deidre Carter.
Image: Bafana Mahlangu

Congress of the People (COPE) wants to introduce a draft bill that will ensure that the wishes of terminally ill patients to have medical treatment withheld are recognised by law.

The party wants citizens to have a right to refuse medical treatment should they wish to die.

COPE MP Deidre Carter announced on Monday that the party is planning on tabling private members bill  the National Health Amendment Bill, 2018 in Parliament, which will recognise living wills.

South African Medical Association describes living wills as “a declaration or an advance directive which will represent a patient’s wish to refuse any medical treatment and attention in the form of being kept alive by artificial means when the patient may no longer be able to competently express a view”.

As it stands, the doctor has the authority to decide on how to treat a patient.

“Withholding and withdrawing life-sustaining treatment is a decision taken by the treating doctor and must only be based on his or her clinical evaluation and not on anybody's prequest," said minister of health Aaron Motsoaledi in a written reply to COPE.

Carter said that Motsoaledi’s views were misguided and should not be accepted because, among other things, they fail to respect rights in the Bill of Rights, which includes right to life and dignity.

COPE wants patients to have the final say in how the doctors treat them.

"Any competent person may foresee the possibility of becoming incompetent when they enter the terminal phase of the dying process, and may wish to control their health care decisionmaking as they are able to do when they are competent,” said Carter.

“Advance health care directives are designed to enable competent persons to express their preferences and give instructions about such possible future situations – through a 'living will' or a 'durable power of attorney for health care'.”

The bill, gazetted on July 24, also wants those given power of attorney to not face any prosecution should they elect to end a life.

Here’s what the bill aims to do:

• Provide for and clarify the legal status of two types of advance health care directives, namely, a “living will” and a “durable power of attorney for healthcare”;

• Set out the purpose, scope and format for these advance health care directives and provide for the resolution of disputes related to these directives;

• Clarify whether a “living will” or a substitute decision-maker’s decision may be overridden by a medical practitioner or family members in any circumstances; and

• Clarify whether someone acting upon these directives is immune from criminal and civil prosecutions.