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    Nelson Mandela may soon go home to recover

    A child posed in front of a tribute to ailing former South African leader Nelson Mandela  in Pretoria.
    A child posed in front of a tribute to ailing former South African leader Nelson Mandela in Pretoria.

    JOHANNESBURG — Nelson Mandela may be discharged from the hospital soon to recuperate at home, said a former president of South Africa.

    The prediction about Mandela leaving the hospital was made by Thabo Mbeki as he gave a memorial lecture for the African National Congress on Saturday, reported the South African radio news service Eyewitness News.

    Mandela has been hospitalized for more than five weeks for a recurring lung infection, sparking an outpouring of support in South Africa and internationally. Friends who have seen him say he is on life support in the form of mechanical ventilation.


    The most recent official update on his health said Mandela was in critical but stable condition. But both Mandela’s wife, Graca Machel, and President Jacob Zuma have said recently that Mandela is responding to treatment.

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    The antiapartheid hero spent 27 years in prison before becoming South Africa’s first black president in 1994. He turns 95 on Thursday.

    Mbeki was Mandela’s key deputy and succeeded him as South Africa’s president in 1999.

    A report from the Mail and Guardian, a respected South African newspaper, said Mandela does not have a living will, meaning tricky end-of-life decisions could be left to a very fractured Mandela family.

    Friends and family who have visited Mandela say he is responsive and they feel he is communicative through facial and eye movements, but he could require breathing support for the rest of his life.


    The legalities of end-of-life decisions — including terminal pain management and the withholding of life-saving treatment — are murky in South Africa, said Willem Landman, the executive director of the Ethics Institute of South Africa, who wrote in a 2012 paper that the law requires greater clarity.

    ‘‘Ultimately, at issue here is the suffering of people in the end stage of life,’’ Landman wrote. His paper argued that South Africa should decriminalize assisted dying for the terminally ill and asks whether creating such a law is consistent with or even required by South Africa’s constitution.

    South Africa’s National Health Act of 2003 says that health services may not be provided to a patient without that person’s informed consent unless the patient is unable to do so. If no person has been appointed, then consent can be granted in Mandela’s case by a spouse or an adult child, in that order.

    Mandela when president commissioned a government report and draft bill on assisted dying in 1998, said Davison, who is also founder of DignitySA, a group working to pass a law giving the right to terminally ill people to end their own lives. The bill was presented to Parliament, but the legal body took no action.