JOHANNESBURG – Nelson Mandela’s doctors have rejected the idea of turning off the ailing icon’s life support unless he suffers massive organ failure, a close family friend said.
Denis Goldberg, an anti-apartheid activist who has been Mandela’s friend for more than half a century, on Friday said the issue of switching off life support was discussed and ultimately dismissed.
“I was told the matter had been raised and the doctors said they would only consider such a situation if there was a genuine state of organ failure,” Goldberg said in an interview. “Since that hasn’t occurred, they were quite prepared to go on stabilizing him until he recovers.”
The 80-year-old Goldberg was convicted along with Mandela in 1964 for their fight against white-minority rule. He visited the former president on Monday.
A court document filed by a lawyer for Mandela’s family nine days ago stated the 94-year-old was “assisted in breathing by a life support machine.”
“The Mandela family have been advised by the medical practitioners that his life support machine should be switched off. Rather than prolonging his suffering, the Mandela family is exploring this option as a very real probability,” the court filing read.
The document, which was designed to press a court to urgently settle a family row over the remains of Mandela’s children, also stated that he was “in a permanent vegetative state.”
South Africa’s presidency has said that is not the case, but has refused to give further details of Mandela’s condition, citing the need to respect his privacy.
On the day the document was drafted, President Jacob Zuma abruptly canceled a trip to Mozambique to confer with Mandela’s doctors amid fears he may be close to the end. Zuma, Mandela family members and his close friends have since reported that his condition has improved.
Presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj said Friday that Zuma’s office “had not been party” to the court material and would not speculate on its content. “We did not file any document and we are not saying that it’s true or not true,” he said.
Earlier, Goldberg said Mandela was “clearly a very ill man, but he was conscious and he tried to move his mouth and eyes when I talked to him. He is definitely not unconscious . . . he was aware of who I was.”
Mandela spent 27 years in prison for fighting white-minority rule and went on to lead the process of racial reconciliation as South Africa’s first black president.