JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa's Supreme Court of Appeal started hearing arguments in a case on assisted suicide on Friday after the government appealed against a ruling by a lower court granting a terminally ill patient the right to die, a court official said.

Assisted dying, also known as euthanasia, is illegal in South Africa. But in a groundbreaking ruling in 2015, South Africa's High Court granted a terminally ill man, Robin Stransham-Ford, the right to die with dignity.

Stransham-Ford died just hours before the High Court ruling was delivered.

The government decided to appeal against the ruling, saying it had far-reaching implications on its interpretation and possible abuse by others in the absence of a legislative framework that regulates assisted suicide.

Supreme Court of Appeal Registrar Paul Myburgh said the hearing would "run today until completion".

Stransham-Ford's lawyers are defending the case on the instructions of his estate, local media reported.

Retired South African cleric and anti-apartheid campaigner Archbishop Desmond Tutu said in a published commentary in October that when his time comes, he would "want the option of an assisted death".

Tutu, who has been living with prostate cancer for nearly 20 years, came out in support of assisted dying in 2014 but was more ambiguous about whether he personally wanted that option.

(Reporting by Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo; Editing by Gareth Jones)