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‘How I helped my friend to die’

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

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

Published Sep 23, 2014

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Cape Town - Sean Davison, the UWC professor who was convicted in New Zealand for helping his mother take her own life, has admitted he recently helped South African doctor Anrich Burger to die.

The professor’s role in the so-called “CyberDoc’s” death last year was revealed during a speech he made at the weekend after being elected to the board of the World Federation of Right to Die Societies in Chicago.

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He said it was a moment the pair had conspired about for months. There were plans to fly to Sweden, but eventually they settled on a room at a luxury Waterfront hotel. Burger, 43, wanted to to die in South Africa.

The doctor drank a lethal dose of phenobarbital. In the minutes that followed, as the drug spread through his system, his bodily functions began to slow down and eventually stopped.

“He gazed at the sea he once enjoyed so much on skis and boats, while he slowly drifted into peaceful sleep, never to wake,” said Davison.

Burger, a popular advice columnist and writer for Health24, became a quadriplegic after a car crash in Botswana in 2005. Davison, who founded Dignity SA, an organisation seeking to change the law to allow for legalised assisted dying, had met the doctor through his work.

In his speech on Sunday, Davison said: “At the time of his accident he was a young man with his life before him. He was a brilliant medical doctor training in acute and emergency medicine, and he was strong and fit with a passion for the outdoors.”

When Burger first contacted him in 2012 it was simply to show support for the organisation. But, Davison said, they quickly became close friends.

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“I used to push him in his wheelchair around the estate where he lived and then we would play a few games of chess.”

Burger lived with his fiancée, and had a caregiver on duty at all times. He was dependent on those around him for everything, from wiping his nose and drinking water to doses of morphine for pain relief, said Davison.

“He had lost all control and autonomy over his life. He would describe to me some of his most undignified days.”

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On outings he would lose control of his bowels. He needed to be cleaned up by his fiancée or caregiver before the journey could continue, said Davison.

“He found such episodes excruciatingly embarrassing and a humiliating loss of dignity.”

With the constant pain and humiliation came a desire to die, said Davison. He began carefully planning his death.

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“He asked me to be part of his plan, and I agreed, as a friend… His greatest fear was that something would happen to me and that his escape plan from his suffering would be gone.”

That’s how they found themselves at a seaside hotel in Cape Town last November where the doctor died.

Davison’s spokeswoman, An Wentzel, said there had been no talk of criminal charges linked to the assisted suicide.

“Sean did not do anything, so he has not even spoken about that.”

The Cape Argus could not reach Davison to confirm whether Burger’s family had known he was planning to take his own life.

Davison hit the headlines in 2006 after it was revealed he had travelled to New Zealand to be with his mother, who had terminal cancer. While he was there he helped her to take an overdose which killed her.

 

A complex trial followed her death and he eventually accepted a plea bargain and pleaded guilty to assisted suicide. He was sentenced to five months under house arrest in Dunedin, New Zealand.

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Cape Argus

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