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Hearing on assisted dying set to begin in High Court

- Lee-Anne Bruce

[UPDATE]: We received communication on 19 February that despite the best efforts of the parties who have co-operated in view of the medical condition of the witnesses, they were unable to commit to begin hearing evidence until 1 March. 

From Monday 22 February, the High Court in Johannesburg is set to begin hearing evidence from two individuals with terminal illnesses who wish to choose when and how to end their lives. Dr Sue Walter and Mr Dieter Harck are asking the Court to allow them to die with the assistance of a willing doctor. CALS has entered the case as a friend of the court to support the right to die with dignity and to present expert evidence from jurisdictions where assisted dying is regulated in law.

An important case on assisted dying is currently before the High Court in Johannesburg. The matter was brought by two terminally ill individuals against the Minister of Health, the Health Professions Council of South Africa and others. Dr Sue Walter and Mr Dieter Harck approached the Court to ask that they be allowed to end their lives with the assistance of a willing doctor, arguing that assisted dying should not be criminalised or treated as professional misconduct. They further brought the matter in the public interest to ensure others might also be able to access assisted dying if they choose.

The matter takes the form of action proceedings, where evidence and facts are presented verbally in court during a civil trial. Proceedings in this matter were set to begin later this year, however Dr Walter and Mr Harck have been allowed to begin giving their testimony and presenting evidence next week due to the severe and terminal nature of their illnesses.

The Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS) has been admitted as a friend of the court in the matter, and earlier this year was further granted leave to present expert evidence. We hope to assist the Court on this important issue by providing evidence from specialists in bioethics, medicine and end of life care from the Netherlands, Canada and the state of Oregon in the U.S. where assisted dying is regulated in law. This evidence is set to be presented in court later this year.

The matter is set to be heard virtually by the High Court for two weeks beginning on Monday, 22 February 2021.

Journalists interested in attending the proceedings are encouraged to write to the presiding officer, Judge Matojane, via their registrar.

Read our full amicus application here.

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