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Mercy Or Monster?

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After cancer had spread throughout her body, and death was inevitable, Patricia Ferguson decided she wanted to be in control of it. So, she went on a hunger strike.

“She had always said she would rather take an overdose than become a burden,” says her son, Sean Davison.

Having flown from Cape Town, South Africa, to Dunedin, New Zealand, to be with his mother during her final days in 2006, Davison was confronted with a horrific scenario and a decision that is hard to comprehend.

Unable to move her limbs, Ferguson was bedridden. Bruises and bed sores covered her body and her flesh was starting to rot. She wished her pain would end and no longer wanted to be a burden on her loved ones. She had starved herself for more than a month but her body refused to give in.

Finally, she pleaded for her son to give her a lethal dose of morphine pills that she had saved up over days. Witnessing her suffering for weeks, Davison sorrowfully agreed to help his mother.

“My instinct was to keep her alive. But I realized that this was what she wanted, and if I didn’t help her she would have suffered a lot more,” he says.

He crushed the pills, mixed them in a glass of water, and handed it to his mother. After about an hour she peacefully fell asleep.

Davison says this was an act of compassion; New Zealand authorities said it was a crime. He was arrested and later sentenced to five months house arrest.

Helping his mother die seemed to split society. Although many sympathized with Davison – including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who wrote a letter that helped prevent him spending time behind bars – others were appalled by his actions. While being kept as a prisoner in his mother’s house, Davison received two death threats.

In 2010, while awaiting his trial, Davison, now the Head of the Forensic DNA Laboratory at the University of the Western Cape, founded Dignity SA. It is an organization that is fighting to legalize assisted dying in South Africa.

“My mother would never have gone on that ill-fated hunger strike if she knew she had the option of an assisted death,” Davison wrote in a column in December last year.

But, just like he faced resistance in New Zealand, Davison has detractors in South Africa. Dr Albu van Eeden is the CEO of Doctors For Life, a group of doctors that campaigns against controversial issues, such as euthanasia, abortion and homosexuality. He claims suicide is an infectious disease.

“The concept of suicide contagion is a very well established principle in psychology and psychiatry,” he says.

Suicide contagion is defined as the exposure to suicide or suicidal behaviors from family, friends, or media, and can result in an increase in suicidal behavior. Van Eeden believes that 99.9% of suffering can be effectively treated with medicine.

“It’s just erroneous now when we have the most effective pain treatment in the history of the world, now suddenly there is a need for assisted suicide,” he says.

Assisted suicide is when a doctor provides the medication and/or information for a terminally-ill patient to end their own life, while euthanasia involves a doctor administering the medication. Today, euthanasia is legal in the Netherlands, Belgium, Colombia, and Luxembourg. Assisted suicide is legal in Switzerland, Germany, Japan, Canada, and in the US states of Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Vermont, Montana, and California.

In South Africa, assisted dying is illegal but some are trying to change that in courts and Parliament. The most recent case is that of the well-known advocate Robin Stransham-Ford, who insisted his cancer and kidney failure infringed on his constitutional right to dignity. In 2015, on the day Stransham-Ford succumbed to the cancer‚ the High Court ruled that a doctor could help him end his life. Numerous organizations, including the Department of Justice, the Department of Health, and Doctors For Life, asked the Supreme Court of Appeal to review this. In December 2016, the decision was overturned.

Aubrey Magerman, Attorney and Director at Magerman Attorneys, feels that assisted dying should be legalized; he says it is still a crime in South Africa.

“We’re back at square one, where we would be criminally culpable to assist someone in ending their life,” he says.

Magerman believes everyone should have a constitutional right to a dignified life and a dignified death.

“I have had my own grandparents pass away out in the rural Northern Cape under terrible circumstances, with no assistance, and in horrible pain, and being unrecognizable for weeks on end. It is terribly traumatizing for anybody. I wish, when it come to my time [to die], I will have the opportunity [to undergo assisted suicide].”

Magerman refers to the popular MP Mario Oriani-Ambrosini, who had stage-four lung cancer.

“One day he couldn’t take the pain anymore and he killed himself. His family found him with his brain and blood splattered all over the bedroom walls and on the bedding. So, I don’t think the State should tell us how to die,” he says.

Despite this, Van Eeden says assisted dying can have consequences beyond easing a person’s suffering.

“Once you allow it you are stretching man’s tendency to stretch the limit or the borders which makes the slippery slope happen,” he says.

“In Canada, they now want to make it possible for people who are asking for euthanasia to donate their organs. Suicide was originally only meant for terminal illness, for people with unbearable suffering, until they said ‘on what basis is physical suffering worse than mental suffering?’ So then they said ‘ok, we’ll allow it for mental suffering as well’.”

“So now you find a person can go to their doctor and say ‘I’m depressed, I’m worthless’. Maybe he’s a disabled person or an old person, and he says I don’t mean anything for anybody, I’m a burden to society, to my children, I think I’m in the way. I want to rather commit suicide and please you’re the doctor, you must do it for me. Now they can say to him, ‘You know what? Your life is worthless but it can have purpose, you can give your organs for donation… And this just shows you what a monster suicide becomes.”

Van Eeden is also worried about the regulation of the laws.

“Holland was not able to keep its regulations. Firstly, they said there would be a waiting time, and two or three doctors must agree with the decision, but all these things went out the door. Initially, it was only for patients above the age of 18, now it’s changed so that children above the age of 12 years old can ask for euthanasia without the consent of parents. The limits are constantly being stretched,” he says.

Magerman agrees that regulation is vital if assisted dying laws are introduced.

“What is required here is for the State to step in. It should be up to Parliament, which is the body charged with making legislation. It is not something that can be regulated in the courts.

“It creates absolute uncertainty. It is simply for Parliament to say we will for now on regulate assisted suicide or euthanasia and the parameters of that will be set.”

But Van Eeden has concern that State regulation opens the door for laws to be abused.

“It will always be cheaper to take a life than to treat a person and try and help him. So there’s a very strong financial incentive to any government once you start allowing assisted suicide.”

It’s a complex issue with many legal, ethical and religious variables to consider. Those against assisted dying say that it goes against the sanctity of life that is stressed by most religions.

One iconic religious leader defies this. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, in October 2016, said he would like to have the option of assisted dying.

“I have prepared for my death and have made it clear that I do not wish to be kept alive at all costs. I hope I am treated with compassion and allowed to pass on to the next phase of life’s journey in the manner of my choice,” he wrote in the Washington Post.

“For those suffering unbearably and coming to the end of their lives, merely knowing that an assisted death is open to them can provide immeasurable comfort,” he added.

In 1998, South Africa’s President Nelson Mandela asked the Law Reform Commission to look into assisted dying.

The commission decided that assisted dying should be legalized, even writing a draft bill. Despite this, it was never debated in Parliament, and continues to gather dust.

In 2014, Tutu lambasted the way Mandela was used as a political prop days before his death, calling it ‘disgraceful’.

“My friend was no longer himself. It was an affront to Madiba’s dignity,” wrote Tutu, who is often referred to as South Africa’s moral conscience.

Would assisted dying legislation have allowed Mandela to die with more dignity? It’s impossible to answer definitively, but a sobering thought nonetheless.

Current Affairs

What You Need To Know About AfDB’s $3 billion “Fight COVID-19” Social Bond

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Landmark transaction, largest Social bond transaction to date in capital markets

Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, 27 March 2020 – The African Development Bank (AAA) has raised an exceptional $3 billion in a three-year bond to help alleviate the economic and social impact the Covid-19 pandemic will have on livelihoods and Africa’s economies.  

The Fight Covid-19 Social bond, with a three-year maturity, garnered interest from central banks and official institutions, bank treasuries, and asset managers including Socially Responsible Investors, with bids exceeding $4.6 billion. This is the largest Social Bond ever launched in international capital markets to date, and the largest US Dollar benchmark ever issued by the Bank. It will pay an interest rate of 0.75%.

The African Development Bank Group is moving to provide flexible responses aimed at lessening the severe economic and social impact of this pandemic on its regional member countries and Africa’s private sector.

“These are critical times for Africa as it addresses the challenges resulting from the Coronavirus. The African Development Bank is taking bold measures to support African countries. This $3 billion Covid-19 bond issuance is the first part of our comprehensive response that will soon be announced. This is indeed the largest social bond transaction to date in capital markets. We are here for Africa, and we will provide significant rapid support for countries,” said Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, President of the African Development Bank Group.

The order book for this record-breaking bond highlights the scale of investor support, which the African Development Bank enjoys, said the arrangers.

“As the Covid-19 outbreak is dangerously threatening Africa, the African Development Bank lives up to its huge responsibilities and deploys funds to assist and prepare the African population, through the financing of access to health and to all other essential goods, services and infrastructure,” said Tanguy Claquin, Head of Sustainable Banking, Crédit Agricole CIB.

Coronavirus cases were slow to arrive in Africa, but the virus is spreading quickly and has infected nearly 3,000 people across 45 countries, placing strain on already fragile health systems. 

It is estimated that the continent will require many billions of dollars to cushion the impact of the disease as many countries scrambled contingency measures, including commercial lockdowns in desperate efforts to contain it. Globally, factories have been closed and workers sent home, disrupting supply chains, trade, travel, and driving many economies toward recession. 

Commenting on the landmark transaction, George Sager, Executive Director, SSA Syndicate, Goldman Sachs said: “In a time of unprecedented market volatility, the African Development Bank has been able to brave the capital markets in order to secure invaluable funding to help the efforts of the African

continent’s fight against Covid-19. Not only that, but in the process, delivering their largest ever USD benchmark. A truly remarkable outcome both in terms of its purpose but also in terms of a USD financing”.

The Bank established its Social Bond framework in 2017 and raised the equivalent of  $2 billion through issuances denominated in Euro and Norwegian krone. In 2018 the Bank was designated by financial markets, ‘Second most impressive social or sustainability bond issuer” at the Global Capital SRI Awards.

“We are thankful for the exceptional level of interest the Fight Covid-19 Social Bond has raised across the world, as the African Development Bank moves towards lessening the social and economic impact of the pandemic on a continent already severely constrained. Our Social bond program enables us to highlight our strong development mandate to the investor community, allowing them to play a part in improving the lives of the people of Africa. This was an exceptional outcome for an exceptional cause,” said Hassatou Diop N’Sele, Treasurer, African Development Bank.

Fight Covid-19 was allocated to central banks and official institutions (53%), bank treasuries (27%) and asset managers (20%). Final bond distribution statistics were as follows: Europe (37%), Americas (36%), Asia (17%) Africa (8%,) and Middle-East (1%).

Press Release by the African Development Bank

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Billionaires

Mike Bloomberg Announces $40 Million Plan To Combat Coronavirus In Developing Countries

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Less than two weeks after withdrawing from the presidential race, Mike Bloomberg announced Tuesday that his Bloomberg Philanthropies is launching what it’s calling the Coronavirus Global Response Initiative, a $40 million plan to combat the spread of the coronavirus in vulnerable low and middle-income countries.

Bloomberg tweeted that the new initiative will particularly focus on Africa, which has 417 confirmed COVID-19 cases and seven deaths across the continent as of March 17. 

The new plan comes just days after the three-term New York City mayor announced the Coronavirus Local Response Initiative, which will mobilize mayors across the U.S. to fight the pandemic and keep their cities safe by providing them with virtual technical assistance, coaching, and accurate information. The first virtual meeting will take place on March 19, where more than 180 cities are expected to join experts from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative.

“I know from my experience as mayor of New York City that giving public health professionals the tools to protect the public is vital to saving lives,” said Bloomberg in a statement, “and to help mitigate the kind of economic and social damage that could make this crisis even more debilitating for families and communities.”

The international initiative, which will work alongside The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s response to the virus in developing countries, will fund rapid response teams that will prevent and detect infections, train healthcare workers on the ground to control infections, develop lab networks to manage and transport specimens to central laboratories for diagnosis; measure acceptance and impact of containment strategies, provide communications support such as public education campaigns and provide technical expertise to global and regional health organizations.

Bloomberg’s tenure as the Mayor of New York City included fighting outbreaks in the U.S. such as the swine flu in 2009, which infected 60.8 million people and the outbreak of West Nile virus in 2012, which infected 5,674 people.

In a March 1 television ad for his campaign, Bloomberg addressed the country’s lack of preparedness for the then-epidemic, stating that “at times like this, it’s the job of the President to reassure the public that he or she is taking all the necessary steps to protect the health and well-being of every citizen.” He went on, “They want him or her to prepare for events like these in advance with teams of experts.”

Since then, the World Health Organization has declared the virus a global pandemic that has infected 196,000 people around the world and killed nearly 7,900. In its statement, Bloomberg Philanthropies will partner with Dr. Tom Frieden, a former director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and currently president and CEO of Resolve to Save Lives, an initiative of global health organization Vital Strategies, along with the World Health Organization (WHO) to mitigate the virus.

“We have a window of time to partner with Ministries of Health in sub-Saharan Africa to protect their population from a disease that could kill through both infections and disruption of health services,” said Frieden.

Forbes estimates that Bloomberg, who is currently worth $45 billion and is the fourth biggest philanthropist in America has given away billions of dollars in recent years with a focus on climate change and global public health initiatives, including a $1.8 billion pledge to Johns Hopkins University, his alma mater. Bloomberg Philanthropies says it distributed at least $3.3 billion last year.

Natalie Sachmechi, Forbes Staff, Billionaires

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Health

#Coronavirus: South Africa Records Its First Two COVID-19 Deaths

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South Africa records its first two Coronavirus deaths. In a tweet Dr Zweli Mkhize, Minister of Health, issued a statement on the deaths that occurred in the province of Western Cape. The minister further stated that the number of confirmed cases in the country has tipped over the 1000 mark.

READ MORE | #Coronavirus: South Africa Imposes 21 Day Lockdown After Confirmed COVID-19 Cases Rise By 128 to 402

The country is currently on Day 1 of a 21 day nationwide lockdown imposed by President Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday, 23rd of March as a measure that the government would be taking to combat COVID-19. “The National Coronavirus Command Council has forced a nationwide lockdown for 21 days with effect at midnight on Thursday March 26, 2020” said the president.

This is a developing story and details will be updated as new information is available.

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