The process of registering Doctors For Life International’s clinic in Chikuluma Malawi started in 2017 already. The chiefs of this community gave land after DFL conducted a free medical and eye surgery campaign in this region. The need for a permanent health facility became clear and thus DFL started registration. The construction of the clinic was finalised in around October 2019.
In September 2019, Doctors For Life conducted a large medical outreach to one of the most remotest areas in Sub-Saharan Africa – the vast Zambezi Delta region of about 18,000sq/km in Mozambique. The focus was curing blindness through cataract surgery but included various other types of eye surgery.
Total number of surgeries were about 136. Organisations and companies that supported DFL included: Medical Mission International, Good Shepherd Hospital, Mercy Air, YWAM (JOCUM) Marromeu, The Kingsley Holgate Foundation (through their sponsors Land Rover, Barrows and Nandos), TEREOS Sugar company in Marromeu, Surgical Opthalmic Supplies (SOS) and many ot her individuals.
A big thank you to all of them, without whom this mission would not have been possible. We would also like to extend our gratitude to the Mozambique ministry of Health, in particular the minister, as well as the Ministry of Health of the three provinces Sofala, Inhambane and Zambezia. A special thank you to the medical specialists, nurses and volunteers who gave their time and expertise to help the needy free of charge.
Claims that the HPCSA Pro Forma Complainant (prosecutor) has finally provided Dr De Vos with the prescribed information for him to prepare for the HPCSA Disciplinary Inquiry on 28 – 30 October 2019, are false. Although the HPCSA sent Dr De Vos some documents on 14 October 2019, none of the documents provided are that which the Disciplinary Inquiry ordered the Pro Forma Complainant to provide no later than 30 August 2019. Dr De Vos, who is a member of Doctors For Life, has been charged by the HPCSA for advising that unborn children are human life. He has also been barred from practising for more than two years now without any form of hearing.
The information required for Dr De Vos to prepare for the hearing against him, has been requested as early as April 2018. Instead of providing the documents, the charges were withdrawn to avoid the hearing scheduled for 3 and 4 August 2018, only to be reinstated but scheduled for more than 12 months later (27 and 28 August 2019). Dr De Vos’ legal team (De Wet Wepener Attorneys and Adv Keith Matthee SC) continuously pleaded with the HPCSA to provide the information so that Dr De Vos can prepare for the hearing. On 27 August 2019, the Chairperson of the Committee, Mr A Swart ordered the Pro Forma Complainant to provide the required information not later than 30 August 2019.
The order included that the HPCSA Pro Forma Complainant was to provide Dr De Vos with:
1. How far was the pregnancy of the complainant?
2. Was the pregnancy terminated?
3. If so, what method was used to terminate the pregnancy?
4. Copies of the statement by the complainant(s) about the allegations contained in the charge sheet.
5. Copies of any other statements.
6. A copy of the written complaint addressed to the registrar in terms of section 2(1) of the Regulations Relating to the Conduct of the Inquiries in Alleged Unprofessional Conduct (Health Professions Act)
7. Copies of the alleged pamphlets and text messages.
8. More particularity is required as regards where and when during 2015 the alleged conduct happened.
The HPCSA Pro Forma Complainant has only provided three statements to Dr De Vos’ legal team, some 6 weeks after the information had to be furnished.. None of the other required information has been provided. Even if all the information is now provided, it would be so late, that it would be impossible for Dr De Vos’ legal team to prepare properly. In line with a recent Constitutional Court decision (Stokwe v Member of the Executive Council: Department of Education, Eastern Cape and Others) delivered in February 2019, the extreme delays in this hearing (all caused by the HPCSA functionaries) now render the hearing unfair.
Doctors For Life joins the calls of thousands of people who are now calling on the HPCSA to drop the charges and to stop the grossly unjust treatment of Dr De Vos.
In April 2017 Dr De Vos was prematurely removed from the Gynaecology and Obstetrics rotation at 2 Military Hospital, Wynberg. He was given no hearing by the concerned doctors. He was transferred to Casualty until the completion of his 2 ½ year internship period. (This is usually 2 years but as a result of his disability he was allowed to complete his internship in 2 ½ years).
During May 2017 the HPCSA was informed of this situation by Dr De Vos. During June 2017 Dr De Vos tendered to complete the remaining time in the Gynaecology department if that would still be necessary for the successful completion of his internship. 2 Military Hospital refused and handed the matter to the HPSCA.
After countless letters from his attorneys, the HPSCA eventually decided to charge Dr De Vos and set the disciplinary hearing down for August 2018, more than a year after he completed his internship period in June 2017. Despite the severe prejudice to Dr De Vos of this long delay, he was given no explanation by the HPSCA. A week before the set down date the HPSCA unilaterally withdrew the charge – once again, no explanation was given. Precisely the same charge was reinstated a few months later in 2018, but the new hearing date stipulated by the HPSCA was now August 2019. Once again no explanation was given for this conduct by the HPSCA, including why the long delay before the next stipulated hearing date.
In July 2019 the charge was changed to totally different charges, including changing the date and year in which the alleged offences were committed.
Throughout the period from 2017 up until August 2019, Dr De Vos’s attorneys have been trying to obtain information about the charges in order that they can prepare a defence. This has not been forthcoming. At the hearing in August 2019 this was brought to the attention of the disciplinary committee. As a result of this the hearing could not proceed on that day. However the HPSCA representative undertook to have the relevant information to Dr De Vos by 30th August 2019. The new date set down for the hearing was at the end of October 2019.
As of today, 12th October 2019, the said information has not been given to Dr De Vos. This information includes basic things for example such as the original letters of complaint against Dr De Vos which are required by law before any disciplinary process can be initiated against a doctor. Another example is the statement by the woman who dr De Vos engaged about her decision to end the life of her 19 week old unborn child, the subject matter of one of the new charges. The only reasonable explanation for this failure by the HPSCA is that there never were such letters of complaint nor was there ever such a statement.
The result of this conduct by certain doctors at 2 Military Hospital and the HPSCA, is THAT WITHOUT A HEARING DR DE VOS HAS BEEN SUSPENDED FROM PRACTISING AS A DOCTOR FOR IN EXCESS OF 2 YEARS. He has also not been able to do his community service. Every delay in this matter has been the fault exclusively of the HPSCA and their various representatives. He thus has been severely punished, and continues to be punished, WITHOUT any hearing or explanation.
In a letter dated 9 October 2019, his attorneys have now advised the HPSCA and the other parties concerned as follows:
- “Despite the daily severe prejudice to Dr De Vos flowing from the conduct of all concerned and the close proximity of his disciplinary hearing, other than Dr Molomo, no one else has responded to our urgent letter to you dated 30 September 2019.”
- “Given the failure … to comply timeously with the undertaking concerning the information needed by Dr De Vos to prepare his defence, a fair hearing on the stipulated dates has now become impossible. Furthermore having regard to the Constitutional Court decision in Stokwe v Member of the Executive Council: Department of Education, Eastern Cape and Others (CCT33/18)  ZACC 3, any further delay in this matter beyond the end of October 2019 would be unfair. All things highlighted in that judgment considered, not least of all the length of delay at your behest, the complete lack of explanation for this delay and the severe prejudice to our client as a result of this delay, there can be no other outcome but that the HPSCA immediately withdraw all charges against Dr De Vos.”
- “Furthermore, to mitigate his losses suffered during the past 2 or so years, it is hoped that the HPSCA will accept that having served 2 ½ years internship he can now proceed to do his community service. In this regard, when making application for his community service you are hereby informed that unless you specify otherwise by the 11th October 2019, Dr de Vos will inform the hospital to which he makes application that he has completed his internship to the satisfaction of the Health Council/HPSCA and now qualifies to commence his community service. We are adopting this approach as our experience in the last two years is that all parties concerned simply either do not respond or fail to respond timeously to our letters/requests as regards the ongoing severe prejudice to Dr De Vos. Alternatively, they simply withdraw charges and then reinstate the same charges a few months later. Or they do not provide the necessary information to enable him to defend himself. The result of all this being, as we stated in our previous letter, that Dr De Vos has already been punished by not being able to practise as a doctor for more than two years, even though he has not yet had a hearing. AND AT THE END OF THE DAY HE HAS SERVED AN INTERNSHIP OF 2 ½ YEARS.”
- “We need to highlight that if after investigation it is established that individuals can be identified who were part of the cause of the unlawful damages suffered by Dr De Vos, especially from this letter forwards, such will be held accountable in their personal capacities. As we said in our previous letter to you, we do not see why the taxpayer should have to foot the bill for the negligence/mala fides of individuals.”
The HPSCA and the other parties concerned also have not responded to this letter of 9th October 2019.
The above is a very short summary of the efforts by Dr De Vos and his attorneys to resolve this matter over the last 2 ½ years. Throughout, the HPSCA and various other doctors have in effect done nothing, other than without a hearing prevent Dr De Vos from practicing as a doctor. The only reasonable conclusion to be reached is that the HPSCA has decided to punish Dr De Vos for his medical view, rooted in science, that “doing good, doing no harm” to the life of a human being includes the lives of unborn children. However faced with the medical evidence of people like Dr Warton (his evidence is attached hereto), it knows it will not be able to sustain a charge against Dr De Vos and thus has simply continued to delay the disciplinary process.
Case ref: MP 073414179/20899438
In the disciplinary inquiry of: DR JH DE VOS
TRAINING AND EXPERIENCE
- I am a qualified medical practitioner having qualified in 1975 and have been registered with the Health Professions Council of South Africa since 1978 Registration number MP0203882. I have taught anatomy, embryology and neuroscience to the medical students and students of the Allied Health Professions at the University of Cape Town since 1980.
- I have written two manuals for the teaching of Embryology which have been used extensively by undergraduate medical students at UCT in recent years.
- The information relating to embryonic and fetal development relevant to this case has been very well established for many years and is not a matter of the latest research.
- The main question posed to me to address in this opinion is whether it is reasonable for a health practitioner, in the light of her/his undergraduate education in embryology, to regard a fetus as human life when seeking to comply with “doing good, doing no harm” to a patient.
EVIDENCE TO BE LEAD:
- 5) TIMING OF THE BEGINNING OF LIFE
5.1 Biologically the life of an independent human organism begins at the time of fertilization (conception). At this time its genetic code is set and as a consequence its future physical characteristics are defined with precision. Thus if one were able to read its DNA at this time one could predict its adult form as accurately as one might by examining it’s adult identical twin if indeed it had one.
5.2 The physical differences between such individuals are the result of differing environmental experiences. Clearly the organism will develop enormously over the subsequent months and years but there is no event during development which fundamentally changes it from a non-human organism to a human organism.
5.3 Various times or events of development have been used to attempt to define the initiation of human personhood for various practical reasons but the life of the organism is one seamless continuous process.
- 6) THE NATURE OF A 19 WEEK FETUS
6.1 There is no specific event which defines the developing fetus as being at 19 weeks. Its heart has started to beat by 24 days of embryonic development (3 ½ weeks). Early brain development is present by 5 weeks, fingers at 7 weeks, toes at 8 weeks, early fetal movements from between 9 and 12 weeks and so on. These fetal movements may be felt by some women in their first pregnancy at 18th – 20th weeks of gestation which equates to 16-18 weeks of development of the fetus.
6.2 Different organ systems develop at different rates, partially related to when they will be needed. Thus the heart develops early as the embryo needs a circulatory system very early but lungs will only be needed after birth and so develop later. Brain function will, of course, continue to develop for perhaps two or more decades after birth. The 19-week fetus is obviously not cognitively advanced –certainly less than a newborn, but structurally he/she has a fully human form and obvious human appearance and her/his movements are already being felt by his/her mother.
6.3 We may debate philosophically or legally her/his status but it is entirely reasonable for a person seeing such a fetus to regard him/her as a small human being. In my experience that is a normal response to seeing such a fetus.
7) In the light of the above in my opinion it is entirely rational and reasonable for a medical practitioner to view a 19 week old fetus as human life to whom she must do good and do no harm. In my experience as a medical practitioner and teacher that is a normal response to seeing such a fetus. This would for example explain why a medical practitioner would carefully consider the effects of any medication she prescribes for the mother, on the fetus.
SHOULD A WOMAN BE INFORMED OF THE DEVELOPMENT AND APPEARANCE OF HER FETUS WHEN BEING COUNSELLED PRIOR TO A PROPOSED ABORTION.
8.1 It is usual when obtaining informed consent from a patient to tell them all relevant information so they can make a proper decision. It is unethical to hide from them relevant information.
8.2 If a woman has an abortion and later discovers that the fetus was more developed than she realized she could legitimately complain that her consent was not informed. It is thus entirely reasonable for a health practitioner to seek to inform such a patient of the nature of the fetus whose life is to be terminated.
Dr C M R Warton
MBChB LRCP MRCS
HPCSA REGISTRATION NUMBER MP0203882
UCT senior lecturer in human anatomy and embryology, Dr Christopher Warton will testify at the hearing of Dr De Vos, who was charged for advising a mother that her unborn child is a human life. The hearing is set down for 28 – 30 October 2019 at the Southern Sun Hotel, Newlands, Cape Town. Dr Warton’s expert summary, which was served on the HPCSA, is attached hereto.
For more information contact De Wet Wepener Attorneys at 057 004 0004 or [email protected]
The USA Surgeon General Jerome Adams made a stunning series of announcements alongside some of the USA’s top public health officials regarding the dangers of dagga (cannabis or marijuana), particularly for pregnant women and youth. DFL was delighted and encouraged that he virtually point for point echoed our position, which we maintained in the Gauteng Supreme Court.
Doctors For Life is therefore increasingly disappointed in the South African Constitutional Court’s decision to allow cannabis use in a private setting without being properly informed about the science. We believe South Africa stands at the threshold of making too hasty decisions based on popular feeling often driven by selfish interests and advocacy, rather than medical science.