Mandela’s family may face quandary over end of life
‘I’m less anxious than I was a week ago,’ Graca Machel tells Johannesburg radio
Indeed, family members and friends who have visited him in recent days say that Mandela is sometimes awake, smiling, communicating with his eyes, even trying to talk. President Jacob Zuma, who visited Mandela as recently as Wednesday, said he was now responding to treatment.
Still, the anti-apartheid leader’s condition is undeniably grave, and there is a great deal of skepticism about what the government and the family is saying about his condition. “I believe, personally, that there is a lack of honesty in this matter,” said Cheryl Webb, a counselor for the Family Law Clinic in Cape Town who has worked with families in similar situations.
“You just get the feeling that the truth is not being told. We have elections coming up soon. There is talk of absolute chaos in the country after Mandela passes away. There are so many factors.”
Such sentiments are not unusual. “Not long ago, I was told authoritatively, hands on heart, that Mandela had died by people who knew people,” said Bonita Meyersfeld, director of the Center for Applied Legal Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. “There is a great deal of misinformation. Nelson Mandela is an icon, but this time he is an icon for misinformation and not being told things.”
The Mail & Guardian, a South African newspaper, has reported that Mr Mandela does not have a living will. His family has not denied that, although family members have largely declined to provide a detailed accounting of the issues surrounding his illness. Nor is it known whether Mandela has appointed anyone to act as his surrogate in life-or-death decisions - like his wife, Graca Machel - in the event he is not capable of making them.
The key case in South African law covering such end-of-life issues involved a general practitioner named Frederick Cyril Clarke, who went into the hospital in Natal province in 1988 for an epidural to ease his chronic pain. He had a heart attack while undergoing the procedure and, by the time he could be resuscitated, was effectively brain-dead.
He was kept alive for four years. But in March 1992, his wife petitioned the courts to end her husband’s life-sustaining treatment. The court agreed, over the objections of the South African government. Clark had “permanently lost the capacity to induce a physical and mental existence at a level which qualifies as human life,” the court ruled.
And so he was taken home, where he died August 14th, 1992. It was the first and still the most important court ruling on end-of-life issues in South Africa. It was Mandela himself who, while still president in 1998, appointed the South African Law Reform Commission to compile a report on end-of-life issues. It found numerous gray areas in the law that it recommended be addressed, going so far as to propose a draft law to fill in the blanks.