A new controversial bill is making its way to Parliament that will explicitly allow for living wills to be recognized. The Bill will also allow for terminally ill patients to refuse any medical treatment that could prolong their lives.
A living will is a statement that details a person’s desires regarding future medical treatment when faced with circumstances when they are no longer able to express informed consent.
Nicknamed the “Right to Die” Bill, it forms part of the National Health Amendment Bill, and is intended to be introduced to Parliament by Congress of the People (COPE) member of Parliament, Deirdre Carter.
An explanatory summary of the Bill has already been publicized, and states: “Dying is a natural and inevitable part of life. Unless we die an unnatural death, we will go through a natural dying process. For some, it will be peaceful and dignified; for others it will be filled with pain, distress and suffering. We do not know which it will be.”
Any medical patient who is competent and may foresee the possibility of becoming incompetent as they enter the terminal phase of dying, and may wish to make decisions regarding their healthcare while they are still able to make competent decisions.
Advance health care directives are designed to enable competent patients to express their preferences and give instructions about such possible future situations.
The National Health Act (No.61 of 2003) does contain certain provisions about advance health care directives, including that when a medical patient is no longer competent, a substitute healthcare decision maker may decide to weigh in on their medical decisions.
Many have argued that although these provisions are a step in the right direction, they are also still considered inadequate.
Some of these reasons include that a living will is not expressly recognized, as it is not clear on whether they may, in certain circumstances, be overridden by family or medical practitioners.
It is also unclear as to whether persons acting on directives are immune from civil and criminal prosecutions, or how to deal with a situation where two substitute decision makers butt heads on the treatment the incompetent medical patient should receive.
This Bill will therefore provide for the following:
– Provide for and clarify the legal status of two types of advance health care directives: 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
– Clarify whether someone acting upon these directives is immune from criminal and civil prosecutions
Interested parties and institutions are invited to submit written representations on the proposed content of the draft Bill to the Speaker of the National Assembly by no later than Saturday, 25 August 2018.