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Section 11: Right to Life

Everyone has the right to life.

The Criminal Procedure Act includes the right for police (or someone legally entitled to make an arrest) to ‘shoot to kill’ in certain situations or use ‘deadly force’ in certain circumstances to carry out an arrest. The Constitutional Court recently looked at the use of force to make an arrest and at how this impacted on a person’s rights. In the case of S v Walters, the Court had to look at balancing peoples’ right to life, dignity and bodily integrity and the interests of a just criminal system. The Court said the provisions relating to the use of ‘deadly force’ for arrests were too wide and were therefore unconstitutional. For example, using ‘deadly force’ in the case of a person caught shoplifting would not be justifiable.

(See: Using Force to Make an Arrest)

The Death Penalty

The debate about the death penalty is based on the right to life, and the right not to be treated or punished in a cruel, inhuman or degrading way (section 12). Those who are against the death penalty argue that the state cannot execute (kill) criminals even if they have taken someone else’s life. Others say that the death penalty should be allowed because someone who has taken another human being’s life has given up the right to their own life. The Constitutional Court has said that the death penalty goes against a person’s right to life. So, a court cannot pass the death sentence against anyone.

Termination of Pregnancy (Abortion)

The debate about abortion is based on the right to life, and the right for women to make decisions about reproduction (having children) and to have control over their own bodies (Section 12). People who argue against abortion say the unborn baby has the right to life from the moment the egg is fertilised. People who argue for abortion say that women have the right to make decisions about their own bodies, and that the decision as to when life begins (in the womb or at birth) is for each individual to make. Parliament has passed a law called The Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act which allows women the choice to terminate a pregnancy up to a certain stage. Obviously anyone who is opposed to abortion can not be forced to have one.