120502. Cape Town, Sean Davison, the UWC professor who helped his terminally ill mother die in New Zealand, arrived in Cape Town today where his family was waiting for him. This after his five months' home detention in New Zealand came to an end last week. Picture Henk Kruger/Cape Argus

In January Sean Davison received a death threat while serving his home arrest sentence at a friend’s house in Dunedin. The letter, constructed from letters cut out of a magazine, had religious overtones.

This week passengers on a New Zealand domestic flight cheered and clapped as Davison left the plane.

This much is clear: Davison’s high-profile case has captured the imagination of New Zealanders and fiercely polarised public opinion.

Four days after being released, Davison was a guest panelist at a public discussion at Dunedin Public Hospital on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide: A Discussion We Need to Have, where opposition Labour MP Maryan Street presented the proposed End of Life Choice Bill.

However, Prime Minister John Key has ruled out any amendment to the law before the general elections in 2014.

New Zealand’s parliament last debated the matter in 2003 after a nurse was jailed for 15 months for murder, following the death of her terminally ill mother.

Despite public sympathy for Lesley Martin, parliament rejected the Death with Dignity Bill by 60 votes to 57.

“The politicians have not had the guts to look at it again since then,” Davison told the Voluntary Euthanasia Society after his release.

And opposition to a law change is not only political.

During the Dunedin meeting, Paul Ockelford, who chairs the New Zealand Medical Association (NZMA), said euthanasia was unethical.

“Would we allow a granny to be hanged from a tree in the backyard?” he asked. “If you put it in graphic terms like that, it wouldn’t be acceptable to the community... Where do we draw the line... Would we have a course that teaches (medical) students to kill?”

Yet, Davison is convinced the campaign for a law change will bear fruit. He feels the NZMA’s position represents a minority of the public. And if the law changes in New Zealand he hopes it will be encourage other countries, including SA, to follow suit.

Cape Argus