19 September 2018

South Africa: 'I Have Not Committed Any Offence' - Euthanasia Advocate Sean Davison

to-die organisation DignitySA, Sean Davison, maintains he has not committed an offence, after making his first appearance in the Cape Town Magistrate's Court on Wednesday for allegedly killing his friend, Anrich Burger.

"It is and has always been my contention that I have not committed any offence as alleged in this matter," his lawyer Joshua Greeff read from an affidavit.

Davison, 57, was arrested at his home in Pinelands on Tuesday for the 2013 death of Burger, who became a quadriplegic after a car crash.

Davison, the professor who helped his mother end her life in New Zealand, revealed to News24 in 2014 that he helped Burger to do the same.

Police conducted a search and seizure at his home this week. DignitySA co-founder Willem Landman told News24 Davison's phone and laptop were also confiscated.

Extensive academic career

Prosecutor Megan Blows said the State alleged that the murder was planned or premeditated.

She also said "new information has come to light... the accused might have committed other similar offences".

It was not immediately clear to which other deaths she was referring.

Davison's affidavit in support of is release on bail highlighted an extensive academic career and memberships to numerous professional organisations.

He has been a professor of biotechnology at the University of the Western Cape since 2004 and heads up the forensic DNA laboratory there.

He helped the Truth and Reconciliation Commission identify the remains of anti-apartheid activists, including the Mamelodi 10 of Pretoria.

He also developed a DNA kit to help identify suspects in gang rapes, a service that was offered free to rape victims.

In arguing to be released on bail, Davison said he had built an "impeccable reputation" over the years and incarceration could destroy his character and all for which he had worked.

He said his three children would not understand his absence because he was an integral part of their lives.

As the breadwinner for their family, Davison also feared his wife would not cope financially and emotionally.

Bail

The court heard that being in custody would jeopardise several projects, outstanding DNA analysis and students under supervision, who Davison assisted.

The investigating officer was in possession of his South African and New Zealand passports.

Davison pointed out that he abided by all bail conditions while standing trial in New Zealand for helping his cancer-stricken mother end her life.

At the time, he pleaded guilty to assisted suicide in the Dunedin High Court and was sentenced to five months' house arrest.

He was granted R20 000 bail on Wednesday, which included conditions, such as only leaving the Western Cape with the police's consent and reporting to a police station once a week.

On the allegations, Landman said: "The organisation is on record that we stand for changing the law in South Africa to conform with the Constitution and... we do not assist people to die."

"What anyone does in their private capacity is their own matter."

Davison's arrest has put euthanasia back in the spotlight.

In 2015, the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria ruled that terminally-ill Cape Town advocate Robin Stransham-Ford, 65, had the right to commit suicide with a doctor's help.

The following year, the Supreme Court of Appeal found it was wrong for the High Court to issue the order and that it did not fully consider the principles and ambit of changing the common law to encompass consent as a defence to a charge of murder.

Stransham-Ford died two hours before the order was granted, as a result of his cancer.

Weighing in on Davison's case, defence lawyer William Booth said there had been a number of serious debates in the last decade to change the law on assisted suicide or voluntary euthanasia.

"In my opinion, it should be legal under certain circumstances. No legislation has been promulgated where strict criteria is in place," he said.

"This is about human dignity. If somebody is going to die... alleviate pain and suffering not only for the patient, but the family too."

Davison said in 2012 that many doctors had told him in private that they had helped people to die at their request.

"If you don't have a law change, you might be playing Lotto with your doctor."

Davison is expected to be back in court on November 16.

Source: News24

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