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Health professionals want Basson out: Heywood

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Hundreds of health professionals and organisations want embattled Cape Town cardiologist Wouter Basson struck off the list of medical practitioners, an HPCSA sentencing hearing heard on Wednesday.

“Dr Basson has at no time acknowledged any remorse for his action nor insight into the ethically compromised nature of his actions,” legal advocacy group Section27 executive director Mark Heywood told the hearing in Pretoria.

Heywood said he was representing two groups of petitioners which had made recommendations for Basson’s ejection.

“One of those groups represents many of the most distinguished health professionals, professors and researchers in South Africa. The petition sets out the views of the formal medical community,” said Heywood.

“These are all members of the Health Professions Council of SA and many have been members for decades.”

He said the first lobby to the hearing was in the form of an online petition signed by 230 “concerned health professionals”.

Included among these were Professor Slim Abdool Karim, director of the Centre for Aids Programme of Research in SA, Professor Haroon Salojee, head of community paediatrics at Wits University, and Prof Mpiko Ntsekhe, head of cardiology at the University of Cape Town.

The second petition was from the People’s Health Movement, endorsed by 32 organisations involved in health and medicine, law and human rights.

The first part of the petition reads: “Why Dr Basson deserves to be struck off the medical register — We call upon the HPCSA to strike Dr Basson off the medical register because his actions and denials show that he has no remorse and lacks understanding of right and wrong”.

“It is time that apartheid’s agents, who thought they could act with impunity, account for their complete disregard of human rights and the norms of our South African democracy,” Heywood read from the petition.

Organisations on the petition include Medicins Sans Frontieres SA, the SA Medical Association and the Centre for Applied Legal Studies.

Heywood said the organisations wanted Basson booted out because he had shown disregard for medical ethics.

As Heywood continued, Basson’s lawyer Jaap Cilliers SC objected, saying the witness was a layman who had no standing on medical ethics of the profession.

“We don’t know why the people signed the petitions. He sits here as an ordinary laymen called an administrator of petitions. That (evidence) is clearly inadmissible,” said Cilliers.

Heywood was allowed to continue.

“I am a rights bearer and a consumer of medical services in South Africa. Issues of ethics are a framework that seeks a duty from the medical profession. Ethics are important for the users of health care systems as much as they are to the providers,” he said.

“The senior counsel (Cilliers) does not fully understand the South African Constitution and the rights that it gives us to express opinions on these issues in this new dispensation.”

Cilliers retorted: “Do you want me to respond to that nonsense?”

At one point, Heywood complained that Cilliers was intimidating him.

Earlier, the hearing’s pro forma prosecutor Sallie Joubert said Basson acted in a manner disgraceful to the medical profession.

“We will argue that his conduct [during the apartheid era] amounts to disgraceful conduct and that Dr Basson is a disgrace to the medical profession.”

Joubert submitted that the appropriate penalty would be striking Basson from the register of medical professionals and payment of the cost of the HPCSA inquiry into his conduct.

“The committee should consider the nature of the transgressions. The transgressions are of an unprofessional conduct of a disgraceful nature.

“The committee must also consider the interests of the community,” said Joubert.

Basson’s HPCSA sentencing hearing began on Wednesday. In December last year the HPCSA found Basson guilty of unprofessional conduct.

The inquiry was held to determine whether Basson acted unethically in the exercise of his duties as a chemical warfare expert.

He was accused of acting unethically by being involved in the large-scale production of Mandrax, cocaine, and teargas, of weaponising teargas, and of supplying it to Angola’s then Unita leader Jonas Savimbi.

He was also accused of acting unethically by providing disorientating substances for cross-border kidnappings, and by making cyanide capsules available for distribution to operatives for use in committing suicide.

In 2002, Basson was acquitted by the High Court in Pretoria of criminal charges arising from his conduct.

The State appealed against this decision in the Supreme Court of Appeal but the appeal was dismissed.

The State then went to the Constitutional Court but the case was dismissed in September 2005.

The HPCSA reviewed the judgment to establish if there were grounds to continue with an inquiry. SAPA

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