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‘SA doctors secretly help patients die’

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Sean Davison

Jenna Etheridge

MANY SA doctors are already secretly helping elderly patients die, says Sean Davison, the University of the Western Cape professor who helped his terminally ill mother to die in New Zealand in 2006.

“Many doctors have said to me privately that they’ve helped people to die… at their request. It’s the choice of the doctor though… and they have to do it behind the scenes illegally,” Davison told the Cape Town Press Club yesterday.

He emphasised that with no choice whether to die or not, critically ill patients had to rely on the graciousness of their doctor.

“If you don’t have a law change, you might be playing Lotto with your doctor.”

Davison said he would continue pushing efforts to bring a draft euthanasia bill before Parliament, and would lobby politicians in the next few months.

His organisation, Dignity SA, was petitioning support on its website.

Davison said he had received considerate support from the legal profession.

“The difficulty has been getting the medical fraternity to speak out… mostly because they signed the Hippocratic Oath.”

Ethics Institute of SA chief executive Professor Willem Landman drafted a position paper on euthanasia for the organisation.

In it, he said the key question was whether legalising assisted death would be consistent with the Bill of Rights in the constitution.

He concluded that a South African had constitutional rights consistent with the moral right to a peaceful and dignified death.

There was a need for a comprehensive bill that would clarify the legal position not only on assisted dying, but also terminal pain management, the withholding and withdrawing of potentially life-sustaining treatment, and living wills.

Davison returned to SA in May after serving a five-month detention in New Zealand for helping his cancer-stricken mother end her life.

She had tried going on a hunger strike, but when that failed he gave her a lethal dose of morphine.

Davison pleaded guilty to assisted suicide in the Dunedin High Court last year.

He was originally charged with attempted murder and was arrested in September, 2010.

At the press club briefing, Davison accused New Zealand police of wasting time and money investigating his euthanasia case.

The police went after him following the publication of his book Before We Say Goodbye in 2009.

In a secret chapter not published in the book he revealed that he had helped end his mother’s life after dosing her with morphine.

The chapter was leaked and he was arrested and charged with attempted murder in 2010.

Police interviewed every character in the book. They even wanted to interview three fictional characters, not realising they were made up.

“They needed one person to say that I told them I’d help my mother to die. The police made one very big mistake at the beginning. They didn’t ask me.”

The professor estimated that about R4 million was “wasted” on police investigations.

He handed over R300 000 for his defence lawyer.

In that time he received two verbal warnings and a written one. His offences were not answering the phone and arriving five minutes late from the doctor.

The third warning was for practising on an elliptical cross-trainer that interrupted the signal of his tracking device.

He said he contemplated going to jail after that as he was sick and tired of the restrictions and wanted to embarrass the New Zealand government further. – Sapa


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