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Medical Law Firms

Ethical and Legal Aspects Regarding Withholding and Prolonging of Medical Treatment

Medical law firms, such as that of Adele van der Walt Incorporated, assist victims of medical malpractice or negligence in taking legal steps against the relevant healthcare professional(s) or institutions to get compensation and recourse for the damages suffered because of the malpractice. Such damages include financial expenses related to past and future medical care, loss of earnings, pain and suffering, and loss of life amenities.

With the cost of litigation being high, such medical law firms take the time to investigate the merits of cases brought to their attention by the victims. They provide the victims with legal guidance regarding appropriate steps to follow and should the decision be to go ahead with legal action, the attorneys pursue out of court settlements. Where the outcome of the negotiation, dispute resolution or out-of-court settlement is not sufficient for their clients or in the best interest of their clients, and where the clients instruct further litigation in order to get the desired outcomes, the medical law firms can pursue litigation.

One such an instance, where a patient’s family or the person mandated to act on behalf the patient can benefit from the legal guidance offered by reputable medical law firms, is that of treatment withdrawing or withholding by a medical institution or healthcare professional. The law and ethical guidelines from the Healthcare Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) make provision for withdrawing or withholding of medical treatment under certain circumstances, even if such would not be in the best interest of the patient.

As the attorneys of reputable medical law firms in South Africa will explain, the above applies to on-going care in special units, including critical care units or units dedicated to chronic dialyses for final stage kidney failure. Accordingly, the healthcare institution can limit the intervention to sustain the patient’s life even without the patient or their mandated surrogate decision maker’s permission through restriction of admission to such critical care units. However, the restriction must be based on the agreed national admission criteria as established by the medical professional bodies in the particular medical expert field and by the HPCSA.

Restriction does not mean that the institution can refuse to give the relevant palliative care when such specialised care is restricted. The institution can refer a patient that does meet admission requirements, but where the institution does not have the necessary resources, to another facility where such resources are available.

What the institution cannot do is to refuse the necessary emergency treatment of the patient before transfer or referral is made. In such an instance, we recommend making use of the expertise offered by medical law firms to ensure that adequate treatment is provided or to seek compensation for damages suffered as the result of the lack of treatment by the institution.

It is furthermore unethical for an institution to prolong the life of a terminally ill patient simply for financial gain. According to the HPCSA, it is unethical conduct to transfer a patient to a state hospital or care facility once the patient’s financial funding for the life-prolonging treatment has been exhausted.

If you suspect such unethical conduct or any form of malpractice you have the right to seek legal recourse. As such, get in contact with Adele van der Walt Incorporated as one of the well-established medical law firms in South Africa for legal advice on the matter.


Information in this article is not intended as legal advice and is only for informational purposes. Please seek legal guidance from Adele van der Walt before relying on this information to make any legal decisions.

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