Emotional reunion for prof

By Daneel Knoetze Time of article published May 3, 2012

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Wednesday is my first real day of freedom, said Sean Davison as he held his son Flynn at Cape Town International Airport.

The University of Western Cape professor, home after five months’ house arrest in New Zealand for helping his terminally ill mother to die, says he will now focus on changing the law on assisted suicide.

His partner, Raine Pan, and their sons, Flynn, three, and Finnian, two, welcomed him home with flowers and balloons.

“I have done my sentence, but I want to emphasise that I didn’t commit a crime. It’s not a crime to help someone who is terminally ill to die with dignity. I always told the truth and I’m not ashamed of assisting my mother die. She would have been horrified at my sentencing. So, in a sense, I was always free in my mind.”

Regarding his family, Davison said: “They are the ones that suffered. For me every day was the same, for Raine and the boys every day came with new challenges.”

Before his arrival, Pan burst into tears while recounting the difficult months they had spent apart.

Davison also thanked South Africans for the messages of support, especially Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu who sent a letter pleading for leniency to the judge in the case.

“In New Zealand they have a great admiration for Tutu. I have no doubt that I would have served jail time had it not been for his support,” said Davison.

In 2006, Davison gave his 85-year-old mother, Dunedin resident Patricia Davison, a lethal dose of morphine after she tried to starve herself to death.

Davison was charged with attempted murder in 2010 after he admitted, in a leaked book manuscript, to giving his mother the lethal dose.

In November, the high court at Dunedin sentenced him to five months’ home detention after he was found guilty of the lesser charge of counselling and procuring the suicide of his mother.

“I hope my trial is a call to society to change the laws that found me a criminal for an act of compassion,” he said after the sentencing.

The case sparked fierce debate in New Zealand on assisted suicide for terminally ill patients.

Davison hopes to bring the campaign he started in New Zealand to this country. He wants the law in SA to change, and has formed Dignity SA for this purpose. Dignity SA will host public hearings where those on both sides of the voluntary euthanasia debate will present their cases.

Through this, Davison hopes to educate people and start a petition signed by well-informed people in favour of change, and then approach members of Parliament for support.

“But we must remember that this is a global issue, it affects the whole of humankind. To have the freedom to decide on your own death when faced with ghastly pain and illness is a basic human right,” he said.

Davison will resume his position as a head of the forensic DNA analysis laboratory at UWC on Monday, but wants to savour his freedom until then.”I can’t wait to take my dog up the mountain, to finally feel and breathe the freedom and to just think about nothing for a change,” he said.

l New Zealand is grappling with another case of assisted suicide. Auckland master boatbuilder Evans Mott, 61, appeared in court last month charged with aiding and abetting the suicide of his terminally ill wife, Rosemary. The charge carries a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison.

The case would be reviewed next month.

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