Cope MP Deidre Carter and Dignity SA are campaigning to make it easier for doctors and family members to follow through on the wishes of terminally ill patients.
Carter announced on Monday that she intended to introduce a private member’s bill in parliament that aims to clarify the legal status of advance healthcare directives, which she said were not adequately dealt with in the National Health Act.
The lack of legal clarity meant patients were sometimes subjected to treatments and procedures they had explicitly said they did not want, because medical personnel feared prosecution or family members were in conflict.
Advance healthcare directives set out the actions that should be taken for a person’s future medical care if they can no longer make decisions for themselves, and take two forms; a "living will" which may include instructions such as "do not resuscitate" ; and a "durable power of attorney for healthcare" which gives someone else the power to make healthcare decisions on their behalf.
"Worldwide, increased importance is being attached to patient autonomy. The objective of this private member’s bill … is to ensure the recognition and enforcement of advance healthcare directives within the National Health Act," said Carter.
Carter said the National Health Amendment Bill 2018 would set out the scope of advanced healthcare directives, provide a mechanism for resolving disputes related to these legal instruments, and clarify whether they may be overridden by a medical practitioner or family member.
The bill also sought to clarify whether someone acting upon these directives was immune from criminal and civil prosecution, said Carter.
The bill was in its final drafting stages, and should be completed by the end of the week, she said.
Dignity SA executive committee member Willem Landman said the bill was long overdue. The South African Law Reform Commission had recommended in 1999 that advance directives be legalised, but parliament had failed to follow through.
"South Africans’ right to make decisions about their own continued life should be explicitly and unambiguously recognised in law by affirming the legal status and force of advance directives," he said.
Carter emphasised that the bill did not deal with assisted dying, or euthanasia.
She is also campaigning for an end to marriage officers being allowed to object to solemnising same-sex marriages.
She drafted the private Member’s Civil Union Amendment Bill, published for comment in March, which seeks to repeal section 6 of the Civil Union Act. This section allows a marriage officer to inform the home affairs minister that he or she objects to solemnising a civil union between persons of the same sex on the ground of conscience, religion, or belief.
The bill would be tabled in parliament’s portfolio committee on Home Affairs on August 15, she said.