Nelson Mandela teaches us about facing difficult end of life decisions

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Since Mr Mandela’s admission on 8 June 2013, his very public deterioration of health has prompted media outlets across the globe to begin a discussion about difficult end of life decisions that the Mandela family may face.

Just this week, Forbes published an article entitled: ‘End-Of-Life Lessons for Nelson Mandela’s Family – And Yours’.

There is little concrete information available about the exact nature of the former president’s condition, but the media have speculated that he may be on life support equipment and, as reported in the Forbes feature: “Mandela’s family now faces the same wrenching end-of-life decisions that challenge millions of others worldwide every year.”

The article continues: “Any decision would be made in the glare of an international spotlight and would involve an extended family that has shown itself to be fractious about decisions regarding inheritance, his eventual burial location and his legacy.”

The New York Times has also contributed to the discussion, highlighting the legal grey area surrounding end of life decisions in South Africa in an article which poses the question: when is it time to say ‘enough’.

The article points out that in cases where the patient has left a living will or has appointed a surrogate to act on his behalf, the path is clear. But medical legal experts told the US paper that: “In the absence of a living will, or if no surrogate has been chosen or there is more than one surrogate — like siblings or a sprawling extended family like the one Mr Mandela has — South Africa’s law is not entirely clear.”

The Forbes article concludes that the biggest lesson to be taken from Nelson Mandela’s current situation is “to ensure that our end-of-life wishes are clear and that they have been rendered in a legally binding way.”

Click here to read the Forbes article.

Click here to read the New York Times article.

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