Does withdrawing treatment from a pregnant persistent vegetative state patient resulting in her death constitute a termination of pregnancy?
A recent article on the Texas case of Munoz v John Peter Smith Hospital, begs the question whether if the pregnant woman had been in a persistent vegetative state (PVS) the courts in South Africa would have ordered the withdrawal of life-support treatment because she had expressed her wish not to be treated under such conditions in an advance directive, and that keeping her alive against her wishes would violate her constitutional rights to equality, dignity, privacy and bodily integrity. The answer seems to be yes in both instances. This applies even if the withdrawal of such support is opposed by the persons legally capable of consenting on her behalf in terms of the National Health Act. Where there is no advance directive - provided the treating clinicians conclude that any further treatment will be futile or that the benefits of further treatment are outweighed by the burdens and risks involved – life-support treatment may be withdrawn even against the wishes of persons entitled to consent on her behalf in terms of the National Health Act. Such legally competent persons may, however, apply to court to prevent the implementation of the decision of the clinicians.
David Jan McQuoid-Mason, Centre for Socio-Legal Studies, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa
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Date published: 2015-05-15
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