Pretoria – Cardiologist Wouter Basson on Friday lost his legal bid for the recusal of the professional conduct committee members who found him guilty of unethical conduct.
Acting Judge David Unterhalter ruled that Basson’s application was premature and that the court could not hear it until he had exhausted his internal remedies of appeal before the Health Professions Council of SA (HPCSA).
“There is no reason to think that such an appellate body will not give fair consideration to an appeal brought by Dr Basson,” he said.
Basson wanted the court to set aside a March 2015 decision by two members of an HPCSA professional conduct committee not to recuse themselves from the proceedings against him. He claimed they were biased.
In December 2013, the committee, headed by Professor Jannie Hugo, found Basson guilty on four counts of unprofessional and unethical conduct as a medical doctor when he headed the apartheid government’s chemical and biological warfare programme between 1981 and 1992.
The committee found Basson had acted medically unethically when he co-ordinated the large scale production of illegal psychoactive drugs, equipped mortars with teargas, and provided military operatives with disorientating substances to facilitate illegal cross-border kidnappings.
It found he had acted unethically by making cyanide capsules for South African soldiers to use to commit suicide if captured, and had violated the medical ethical principle of “first do no harm”.
Basson walked out of the HPCSA’s proceedings after the committee refused to recuse itself and continued hearing evidence in his absence.He obtained an interdict to postpone the proceedings pending the outcome of his high court application.He maintained Hugo and fellow committee member, Professor Eddie Mhlanga, should have recused themselves because Hugo was a member of the SA Medical Association and Mhlanga a member of the Rural Doctors Association, which endorsed a campaign for Basson to be struck off the roll of medical practitioners.Petitions by both bodies were allowed as evidence in aggravation of sentence, despite Basson’s objections. Basson submitted that any decision to strike him from the medical roll would remain in effect until after the outcome of any appeals, which would destroy his career as a cardiologist and prejudice his many patients.Unterhalter said the legislature had determined that a penalty imposed by the HPCSA would be enforced pending appeal.”This may work harshly upon a professional person who may suffer a penalty destructive of his professional life, and yet be vindicated on appeal. Yet, that is what the legislature has determined and no constitutional challenge is brought to this regime.”A finding of serious misconduct also triggers the need to protect the public,” said.He ruled that there were no exceptional circumstances to warrant the court’s interference, as the committee had not yet decided on a penalty.
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