• Bonnie Venter

The Worldly Gavel

Updated: Feb 2, 2019

Welcome to the latest feature of the Patient Project!

Every month, I will provide a brief update of medical law news from around the world.

You might be wondering, why should we be bothered with foreign medical law developments since South Africa has such a unique culture and health system. Well, without going into too much detail, foreign law developments are significant because:

  1. when the law is developed in South Africa we may take into consideration foreign law to assist us in finding a solution to a legislative gap (this is a nifty little feature provided by the Constitution);

  2. law developments in countries like the United Kingdom can easily be aligned with our legal system since the South African legal system is based on English law, Roman law and Roman-Dutch law.

Interestingly enough, South African legislators when left stumped with a medical law gap have often turned to UK laws and guidelines to find the best possible solution for our community.

The month of January was filled with a few noteworthy medical law events. The one development which truly stood out this month was the Reproductive Health Act which was signed into law in New York on the 46th anniversary of the Roe v Wade case which paved the way for legal abortion in the United States. It seems as if this Act might have been a tad misconstrued due to poor media reports and social media clickbait. Nevertheless, even if read and properly understood the new act is definitely still open for debate.

In no particular order of importance, here are the latest medical law developments from around the world which the Worldly Gavel would like to bring to your attention:

Singapore suffered a substantial data leak when the HIV-status of 14, 200 people were disclosed online. (The Straits Times)

New York was heavily criticised for the new abortion law which allows a woman the right to have an abortion at any time during the first 24 weeks of her pregnancy. After 24 weeks an abortion may be obtained if the woman’s life or health would be threatened by continuing the pregnancy. (Sycrause)

Women in the UK approached the government to reconsider the 10-year limitation on freezing their eggs. It was argued that it is discriminatory against women and removes their option to take charge of their reproductive system if their oocytes are destroyed after 10 years. (BBC)

Fierce legal debates have been underway in the US to pass a vaccination law outlawing non-medical exemptions. This proposed law will not allow children to be exempted from vaccinations based on their parent’s personal or philosophical reasons. The vaccination law push came as a response after the measles outbreak in Washington was declared as a state of emergency. (The Columbian)

The United Arab Emirates made great strides in the organ donation spheres by providing doctors with authority to declare a patient as brain dead and therefore viable as a potential organ donation. (Gulf News) Not even two weeks later the UAE made provision for the Emirates ID to store health information which will allow doctors to determine whether a resident has signed up to the national donor programme. (The National)

Late 2018, the world was shocked when a scientist from China claimed he created the world’s first genetically edited babies. Due to the ethical and moral concerns raised by this deed China announced in January that they will look into new gene-editing legislation. (Financial Times)


The British Medical Journal published a paper suggesting that the courts should judge applications for assisted suicide. If dealt with in this manner, the right to die will not interfere with the doctor-patient relationship. (BMJ)

I'll leave you with the wise words of Aristotle, 'even when laws have been written down, they ought not always to remain unaltered.'

Did any interesting medical law developments catch your eye this month? The Patient Project would like to know! Share your thoughts with us in the comments below or on our social media pages:




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The Patient Project is made available for educational purposes only. The website should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a practicing legal professional. The information presented may not necessarily reflect the most current legal developments or judgments. The website materials may be changed, improved, or updated without notice. The author is not responsible for any errors or omissions. All views expressed on the website are the author’s own and do not represent the opinions of any entity with which the author has been, am now or will be affiliated with in the future.

© 2023 Bonnie Venter

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