JOHANNESBURG, July 5 – Nelson Mandela’s doctors advised his family to turn off the ailing icon’s life support machines last week, a court document has shown, prompting South Africa’s government to say Friday he was not “in a vegetative state”.
A June 26 court filing obtained by AFP described Mandela’s “perilous” health and appears to show for the first time just how close the critically ill 94 year old came to death.
“He is in a permanent vegetative state and is assisted in breathing by a life support machine,” lawyers said on behalf of 15 Mandela family members including his wife and three daughters.
“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 filing pressed a South African court to urgently resolve a bitter family feud over where the remains of three of Mandela’s children should be buried, which could have implications for Mandela’s own final resting place.
On the day the document was drafted, President Jacob Zuma abruptly cancelled a trip to Mozambique to confer with Mandela’s doctors amid fears the 94 year old may be close to the end.
Zuma, Mandela family members and his close friends have since reported his condition has improved.
South African presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj told AFP on 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.
Maharaj told AFP that doctors had since said Mandela is not currently “in a vegetative state”, but the spokesman refused to comment on Mandela’s previous condition.
“We do not go into clinical details of his condition for reasons of doctor-patient confidentiality,” said Maharaj, also citing the “dignity of the former president”.
Denis Goldberg, one of the men who was convicted with Mandela in 1964 for their fight against white-minority rule, told AFP Mandela was clearly conscious when he visited him on Monday.
“He is clearly a very ill man, but he was conscious and he tried to move his mouth and eyes when I talked to him,” Goldberg said.
“He is definitely not unconscious,” he added, saying “he was aware of who I was”.