South Africa


‘Anti-abortion doctor’ to face charges of dissuading patient from terminating pregnancy

People attend the anti-abortion March for Life rally on the National Mall in Washington, DC, USA, 18 January 2019. Photo: EPA-EFE/ERIK S. LESSER

On the second day of the professional misconduct hearing into Jacques de Vos, the Health Professionals Council of South Africa committee decided the first two charges against De Vos would remain. For two years, De Vos could not practise as a doctor when 2 Military Hospital in Cape Town refused to sign off on his internship after he was charged with professional misconduct.

On Tuesday morning, 29 October 2019, a Health Professionals Council of South Africa (HPCSA) committee made a decision on arguments by Jacques de Vos’s representative that the four counts of professional misconduct brought against him should be dismissed. The committee said the first two charges of professional misconduct would remain. However, the committee reserved its views on the third and fourth charges as there was still information they needed to see before making their decision, said Andre Swart, chairperson of the committee.

In the first charge, De Vos is accused of dissuading a patient from terminating her pregnancy in 2016 when he was at 2 Military Hospital in Wynberg, Cape Town. In the second charge, De Vos is accused of failing to respect the patient’s autonomy.

Before the committee adjourned to discuss their final decision, there seemed to be confusion as to whether Zolile Gajana, the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) representative, was still pursuing charges three and four.

The third charge accuses De Vos of distributing pamphlets that imposed his religious beliefs at the hospital on colleagues, patients and members of the public, it further accuses him of attempting to influence his colleagues to adopt his views by sending them text messages.

The fourth charge accuses De Vos of failing to remain objective when advocating for contraceptives and that he did not act in the patient’s best interest.

Swart said he was under the impression that counts three and four were being abandoned.

I confess to being surprised, maybe I wasn’t paying attention properly, but this isn’t as I understood it, but I do think that we need to clarify this because we’re being asked to rule on charges and we’re not even sure what the charges are,” said Swart.

Swart said that they’d have to refer back to their notes and listen to the previous day’s recording to confirm what was agreed on the day before.

Gajana said that charges three and four were not being abandoned.

Counts three and four, we submit that it flows from the ethical rules booklet of the HPCSA. The booklet says that one is never to impose one’s belief over a patient. Ours relates to the ethical conduct of the doctor,” Gajana told the committee.

The HPCSA booklet states “in introducing contraceptive methods, healthcare practitioner practitioners must be guided by respect for an individual’s autonomy”. The booklet also urges medical practitioners to “take into account the woman’s express wishes” regarding her reproductive health.

Gajana admitted to the committee that they did not have the text messages that De Vos sent to his colleagues.

As we’re sitting here, we don’t have them (the text messages); we’ve sought them,” said Gajana.

Swart said the committee needed to read the medical records and there was other information that the committee did not have. Therefore, they could not make a decision on whether charges three and four should be dismissed.

We reserve our view on charges three and four subject to (additional) information that we’ll receive,” said Swart.

De Vos’s representative Keith Matthee was not impressed with the decision. Matthee told the committee that he and Gajana had agreed it would be best that the committee make a decision with the information they had.

It would make sense if we had clarity on (charge) three and (charge) four before we proceed. The information you have is the only information you’ll receive,” Matthee told the committee.

Swart was not convinced and maintained “this is not the best way to make a cogent, rational decision”. The recordings and transcripts from the previous day would take more than two days for the committee to access, therefore they couldn’t make a decision immediately.

Matthee said it would be irresponsible for him to advise his client without certainty on whether the charges were dismissed.

I need to understand what we’re doing and right now we don’t know what we’re doing. It would be irresponsible for me to say ‘okay, let’s start,’ ” said Matthee.

Sadly, with (count) three and (count) four, we don’t have enough information to have a firm position. We also have a lot of work to do,” said Swart.

Gajana and Swart pointed out that if Matthee was not happy with decisions made in the hearing, he could take them on review.

We understand that we (the committee) are subject to review by a court. Maybe the court might agree or disagree with whatever decision we make here,” said Swart.

The date for the next hearing is 9 December 2019. DM