The Protection of Conscientious Objection against Euthanasia in Health Care

Keywords: religious rights, religious freedom, conscientious objection, Right to freedom of religion, euthanasia, medical ethics, the right to life, human dignity and religion, the right to privacy and religion, personal autonomy and religion


In 2015 the South African judiciary was confronted with the issue of the so-called "right to die", when Robin Stransham-Ford applied to the High Court of South Africa (the North Gauteng Division) for an order to have his life terminated. Although the Supreme Court of Appeal set aside the order (on procedural grounds), the High Court's judgment paved the way towards renewed attention regarding the possible legalisation of euthanasia. A pertinent question arising from this is whether a medical practitioner may be compelled to participate in the administering of euthanasia. Bearing this in mind, this article argues for the protection of the rights of medical practitioners who conscientiously object to participating in the administering of euthanasia, especially where such an objection is based on religious beliefs. From this arises the necessity to investigate the rights applicable both to the medical practitioner and the patient (which focusses on the right to freedom of religion and personal autonomy), the weighing up against one another of the different meanings ascribed to such rights, as well as the postulation of a substantively competitive rationale against the background of the importance and sacredness of human life. This also overlaps with the importance of the endeavour towards higher levels of religious freedoms and consequently of plurality in democratic societies. Applying the proportionality test in the analysis whether a medical practitioner's rights may be reasonably and justifiably limited against the background of administering euthanasia also strengthens the argument for the protection of the medical practitioner's right to object conscientiously to the administering of euthanasia. This, together with the vacuum there is in substantive human rights jurisprudence related to this topic, suggests the importance of this article both for the South African context and beyond.




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