The academic arrested after helping his terminally ill mother to die in New Zealand has arrived back in South Africa.
Addressing a media briefing in Cape Town on Wednesday, Professor Sean Davison announced he would campaign for a change to local law to permit voluntary euthanasia.
“I hope by doing this I can help bring about some good from my unfortunate situation,” he said.
Davison (48), who arrived in South Africa on Tuesday, is head of the department of biotechnology’s forensics laboratory at the University of the Western Cape.
He is currently awaiting trial in the Dunedin District Court for giving his mother Patricia (85) a lethal dose of morphine four years ago.
New Zealand authorities started an investigation after publication of material from a leaked early manuscript of Davison’s book, Before We Say Goodbye, detailing the last few weeks of Patricia’s life.
He was arrested while in New Zealand to visit relatives in Christchurch, and appeared in court for the first time on September 24.
He said on Wednesday that he wanted to thank the university for supporting him through “this difficult time”.
“I am most grateful to our rector, Brian O’Connell, for making a very sincere plea to the New Zealand high court requesting my bail conditions be changed to allow me to return to my family and work in South Africa until my trial next year,” he said.
“It was not a simple decision for the court to allow me to leave since there was no legal precedent in New Zealand for allowing an attempted murder accused to leave the country, especially since South Africa does not have an extradition treaty with New Zealand.
“I understand that the law must take its course and so I will return to New Zealand so I can answer the attempted murder charge.”
Davison said he also wanted to thank the many people who had expressed their support, not just friends and work colleagues, but also complete strangers.
He said he knew there were many people who had had similar experiences to the one he had with the death of his mother.
The only difference between his experience and theirs was that he had written a book.
“What I did to help my mother at the end of her life I did for the love of my mother,” he said. “I did not do it to write a book nor to become a martyr for a cause to change the law. I also had no intention of joining the campaign for a law change on euthanasia.”
However, publication of the book had changed his life considerably, and he now knew that the situation he faced with his mother’s death was far more common than people imagined.
He also knew that many people experienced undignified deaths that could have been prevented if the law was different.
“I now see the importance of having control over one’s own death if one is faced with a terminal illness and the need to change the law to make this possible in certain circumstances,” he said.
“I believe the South African society is receptive to the idea of changing the law to allow voluntary euthanasia in a very carefully monitored context, such as how it is done in Switzerland.”
He acknowledged that not everyone would agree with this, but felt the issue should be openly debated.
Achieving law change
He wanted to help start a Dignity South Africa organisation with the goal of achieving such a law change in this country. A statement handed out at Wednesday’s briefing said Dignity South Africa would be affiliated to Dignity New Zealand.
Dignity New Zealand was founded in 2003 on the principle that terminally ill patients should have the option of assisted suicide.
New Zealand legislators have rejected two pieces of legislation on assisted suicide for terminally ill patients.
The statement said Dignity South Africa’s vision would be to offer the best possible environment for end-of-life care by promoting and in due course providing palliative care, plus an option of “legalised assisted dying”.
“It is envisaged that this option will be offered to South Africans via Dignity Havens as an alternative to the palliative care services that are currently offered by hospices in South Africa,” it said.
“In this way South Africans will be able to access clear choices in end-of-life care.” — Sapa