Terminally ill Doctor fights for assisted suicide to be legal in SA

Terminally ill Doctor fights for assisted suicide to be legal in SA


Dr Sue Walter, who has bone cancer, is fighting for the proper to suicide in South Africa She has spent most of her career caring for people on the cusp of death and knows how important it’s for them to die with dignity. As a palliative care physician, Dr Sue Walter has long been fighting for her patients to possess the proper to finish their lives. But when she was diagnosed with a terminal illness herself, she took things to subsequent level: all the thanks to the supreme court in Johannesburg. Sue (47) is fighting for terminally ill patients like herself to possess a option to end their suffering either through assisted suicide (PAS) or euthanasia. PAS is when a doctor gives you the prescription for medication to administer yourself, whereas euthanasia is when a doctor administers the dose. “I want to vary the law, not only for myself, but on behalf of all people that suffer through their dying experience. “It’s not just the pain,” Sue says. “It’s everything related to illness like nausea, anxiety and therefore the feeling of being a burden on your family or society.” When she was diagnosed with myeloma, a sort of bone cancer, she immediately thought of PAS – but assisting an individual to die is against the law in South Africa. In 2015, advocate Robin StranshamFord, who was dying of prostatic adenocarcinoma, turned to the court to vary the law. during a landmark judgment, the supreme court in Pretoria ruled it had been Robin’s constitutional right to die with dignity. He might be assisted to die with the assistance of a willing medical doctor. Sadly, he died just hours before the court announced its decision. When the matter was appealed within the Supreme Court of Appeal, the ruling was overturned. The SCA found the high court’s order dealt only with Robin and not all terminally ill patients, and when he died the relief was not necessary. The SCA did, however, turn parliament to think about legislation on the matter. But it’s five years later and zip has been done. Sue was an witness in Robin’s case. Knowing his request was granted has made her more determined to fight for her right to die with dignity. “We got to pursue this,” she says. “We actually need to push for it.” DRIVING home on 3 February 2017, the day before her birthday, she got the decision that turned her world the wrong way up. “They told me I had myeloma – it had been an enormous shock,” she recalls. Treatment options included a bone marrow transplant and chemotherapy, but Sue decided against these because her illness had already progressed to the ultimate stage. “Also, the standard of life once you have those sorts of treatments is basically not nice. I’ve got an 18-year-old daughter and that i just wanted whatever life I even have left to be of some quality in order that I are often together with her.” Sue has led a powerful life. She did three psychology degrees before she studied medicine and obtained a diploma in palliative care medicine at Wits in 2007. This was followed by a masters in palliative medicine from the University of Cape ‘It causes you to desire you’ve got some control over your journey ’ Town before she registered for her PhD. To top it all, she’s also a professional acrobatic dance instructor. Before her diagnosis, Sue says, she was always busy but that each one changed after her diagnosis and life as she knew it just about ground to a halt. She had to offer up her practice and was often bedridden. She says the past four years are challenging, but the support from her family and friends have carried her through. “My husband, Chris, daughter, Amy, and two brothers who sleep in the united kingdom are my rock,” she says. Her illness has been particularly hard on her daughter. Sue was delighted to ascertain Amy matriculate last year and hopes to be around when Amy finishes her A-levels in English literature within the UK. With some luck she may even live to ascertain her daughter graduate and obtain married at some point – because despite declining treatment, Sue has defied the chances. Her cancer has been arrested since October 2019 and she or he takes care of herself with a vegetarian diet and by treating her pain and nausea “as it comes”. She and Amy contracted Covid-19 in June last year but both made a full recovery. Right now, Sue is decided to remain tolerably so she will get the law changed. “We need to await October for the remainder of the trial,” she says. HER voice sounds drained once we speak to her via Zoom, but Sue is decided to power through. Those on the brink of her say her dedication to the present case began before her own diagnosis. “She was already established in palliative care and was very concerned at the time that medical teams were overriding the legal document of patients,” says Professor Kevin Behrens, director of Wits’ Steve Biko Centre for Bioethics. Professor Behrens also supervised Sue’s PhD before illness forced her to quit. “She wanted to try to to research that might a minimum of help to vary the law,” he says. She knows it’s a controversial issue, but her research shows giving patients a choice in how they die often gives them a replacement lease on life. “It causes you to desire you’ve got some quite control over your journey and that’s extremely therapeutic. “Having the choice is enough to stay some patients alive.” Those who oppose suicide often use the sanctity of life as their main reason for contention, she says, but should the law change, people will still have the proper to settle on. There’ll even be strict policies and procedures in situ before assisted suicides are approved. “We’ll have two physicians to state that you’re terminally ill, there’ll be a psychiatrist involved, and you’ll have access to palliative medication for a period.” After the time-frame for palliative care and drugs has lapsed, patients are going to be asked again if they need PAS. “I t ’s a process that’s there to safeguard people.” There’s been criticism from people that believe a change to the law are going to be a call for participation to unscrupulous relatives who’ll urge a dying relative to accelerate their death so as to inherit from their estate. Sue acknowledges it’s a priority. “That’s why the practice will got to be strictly monitored so we don’t fall under that trap. “There’d be two individual assessments by two separate doctors to mention that the person is terminally ill. There’d be a psychiatric assessment to mention that the person doesn’t have depressive disorder or anything which they [the patient] neutralize fact want it. “Then they’d need to wait a period of your time, about six weeks approximately, then only after they’ve requested it the second time does one plow ahead,” she explains. Sue’s case has caught the eye of Wits University’s Centre for Applied Legal Studies (Cals), which has joined the proceedings as friends of the court. According to Sheena Swemmer, who’s representing Cals within the matter, they decide to usher in experts from countries where PAS is legally allowed. “The point is to point out different jurisdictions have policies that are tailored for his or her country and their cultures and this will be wiped out SA,” Swemmer tells YOU. The case isn’t only about dying, she adds. “People have the proper to varied autonomous choices during life and ultimately this could reach decisions around death.” Sue hopes the law are going to be changed in her lifetime. “I know my cancer is returning. except for now, I’m doing well. I desire I’ve been given the strength to fight. – YOU

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