Cape Town - Every evening, after he’s tucked his kids into bed, Sean Davison closes the door of his study and starts the precarious business of advising people on how to die.
Since returning to Cape Town from New Zealand - where a high-profile arrest, trial and conviction saw Davison sentenced to five months house arrest for assisting in the death of his terminally ill mother - he has been inundated with calls and e-mails from people who wish to “die with dignity”.
Davison’s case has seen draft legislation to legalise assisted suicide brought before parliament in New Zealand. In South Africa, assisted suicide for the terminally ill is still illegal.
Davison’s DignitySA campaign seeks to change that before the end of 2013. The campaign has drafted a policy document which could potentially form the basis for a draft bill.
DignitySA is consulting lawyers about the possibility of bringing a class action before the Constitutional Court to force a change in law, if it is not willingly adopted by Parliament.
On another front, Davison tours the country, addressing audiences on the reasons why a change in law is a moral imperative that implicates us all. On Thursday, he spoke at Dementia SA’s annual conference in Cape Town.
Away from his public campaign, Davison engages in private conversations with terminally ill South Africans almost every night. He talks them through his and his mother’s experience, and listens to theirs.
After a background check (Davison only helps people with a prognosis of less than six months to live) he advises them on the process of liaising with the Dignitas in Switzerland - a group that assists in voluntary euthanasia. If their applications are accepted by the Dignitas clinic, they catch a one-way flight to Zurich.
“I realised that when I came back from New Zealand, my life would not return to normality. How could it until we have succeeded in our campaign? You never get desensitised, no matter how many people you advise. Every person, every life comes with its own story,” says Davison. “It is always uncomfortable - to deal with death on a daily basis. But, I see this as my humanitarian obligation.”
Davison says many doctors in South Africa have taken this obligation one step further, by illegally assisting their terminally ill patients to die. It’s a revelation he first shared at a Cape Town Press Club meeting in July.
At the time a group of doctors, calling themselves Doctors For Life, openly opposed Davison’s campaign, proving that his stance remained controversial. Davison, however, stands firm in his convictions and the moral integrity of DignitySA’s campaign.
* Davison’s new book will be launched in Cape Town next week. In his words, it tells “the story behind the story” and explains his personal commitment to a changing the law in South Africa. It is called After We Said Goodbye.