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n Tydskrif vir die Suid-Afrikaanse Reg - Die reg op lewe, die waarde van menslike lewe en die eutanasie-vraagstuk
Euthanasia is a highly emotional and controversial subject - especially since almost everyone can identify with the ones who are most likely to ask for such assistance (namely the terminally ill and the elderly). But is it morally acceptable to give such persons the right to be killed or to receive assistance in taking their own lives? This article attempts to address this question and to formulate a principled perspective, which could be used as a moral framework to address the euthanasia issue.
It is submitted that the principled perspective to the value of life is best described by the sanctity-of life school of thought, which states that each human life is intrinsically valuable and should be protected irrespective of the individual's age or any disease or physical or mental disability that the individual might suffer from. However, this does not mean that the value of human life is an absolute value - if there are other values and considerations that are more important in a particular situation then those values and considerations should prevail. It is often submitted that individuals' right to self determination (embraced by s 10, 12 and 15 of our constitution) encompasses the so-called "right to choose". This argument, however, loses sight of the fact that individuals do not have a right to choose whatever they want - a right to self determination is only worthy of protection if that choice is morally acceptable and can contribute to the promotion of respect for human dignity and the intrinsic value of human life.
This article also attempts to distinguish between the different instances of euthanasia and assisted suicide and indicates the South African legal position with regard to each instance - active euthanasia and assisted suicide are essentially acts of murder. The article further investigates the legal position on euthanasia in Canada, England, Oregon and the Netherlands. Finally the article examines whether active euthanasia, passive euthanasia and assisted suicide are reasonable and justifiable in terms of section 36 of the constitution if the principled perspective to the value of human life is accepted - and it is found that only passive euthanasia can be justified in terms of the constitution. In conclusion it is submitted that the current legal position should be confirmed and that more time and resources should be spent on the improvement and promotion of palliative care and emotional support for the terminally ill.
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