After a court in South Africa allowed a terminally ill cancer patient the right to end his life, he died shortly after of natural causes.

Assisted suicide is unlawful in the country, but last Thursday, Judge Hans Fabricius of the High Court in Pretoria ruled that Robin Stransham-Ford could be euthanized with no professional or legal penalties for the medical doctor who would execute the process. The ruling was not applied as Stransham-Ford passed away before it reached him.

"He died before the legal injection was delivered, so a peaceful, natural death," said Sean Davison, chairman and founder of Dignity South Africa (DignitySA), an organization that campaigns for "the right of terminally ill, chronically suffering people to choose the time and place of their death."

DignitySA has been a known supporter of Stransham-Ford's request to the court to decide whether a medical doctor could legally help him to end his life, and they even rallied near the courthouse in the South African executive (administrative) capital. The case appears to center on Stransham-Ford's right to have his inherent human dignity respected and protected.

Stransham-Ford was diagnosed with prostate cancer and had only weeks to live. Being nursed by the mother of his 12-year-old daughter, the 65-year old man was constantly sedated for his pain management.

Stransham-Ford died unassisted at home in Cape Town under the care of his family and medical professionals in the early hours of Thursday morning.

"I wish to end my life with dignity, surrounded by my loved ones, while I am able to breathe on my own, speak to my loved ones and see and hear them," Stransham-Ford wrote to Judge Fabricius, based on the Pretoria News, a local newspaper.

To address the urgency of the case, a full written judgment will only be given by Judge Fabricius in the following weeks. The judge's ruling pointed that Stransham-Ford had at most a couple of weeks to live and was "suffering intractably" and thus be allowed to end his life with the assistance of a doctor.

However, the judge emphasized that the order does not represent an endorsement of the proposed assisted suicide legislation that has faded since it was subjected to the country's health and justice departments 17 years ago.

Meanwhile, the court order was strongly opposed by the Health Professions Council of South Africa and the Department of Justice and Correctional Services, and before Stransham-Ford passed away, they planned to appeal the judge's decision.

According to DignitySA, the right to live with dignity includes the right to choose to die with dignity.

Photo: flowcomm | Flickr

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