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HomeNewsRight-to-die activist sentenced to house arrest for three murders

Right-to-die activist sentenced to house arrest for three murders

In an outcome certain to further fuel the euthanasia debate, the practice’s best-known practitioner, Sean Davison was sentenced to three years correctional supervision after he was found guilty on three counts of murder, reports Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya.

Euthanasia activist and the founder of DignitySA, a right-to-die organisation, Sean Davison pleaded guilty to three counts of murder, confessing that he helped three Cape Town residents take their own lives. 

In a guilty plea agreement, Judge President John Hlophe at the Western Cape High Court has sentenced Davison to eight years of house arrest, five of which will be suspended. This means the convicted will serve only three of the eight years under house arrest, provided he is not found guilty of murder, attempted murder or conspiracy to commit murder, in the time of his eight-year sentence. 

The state had, in its first charge, accused Davison of administering a lethal amount of drugs to his friend, Anrich Burger in November 2013. Burger had become a quadriplegic after a car crash. 

The second charge was related to assisting with the death of Justin Varian in 2015, who had been suffering from motor neurone disease.  The state accused Davison of “placing a bag over the deceased’s head and administering helium with the intent of helium deoxygenation and/or asphyxiation”.

A third last-minute charge, added on 29 April 2019, implicated Davison for “unlawfully and intentionally administering a lethal amount of drugs” to former world-championship triathlete, Richard Holland, who was suffering with locked-in syndrome. 

Locked-in syndrome is a rare situation in which a person is wakeful and aware but has quadriplegia and paralysis of the lower cranial nerves that does not allow the person to show facial expressions or make muscular movements such as moving limbs, swallowing, speaking, or breathing.

The right-to-die advocate made headlines nine years ago after he helped euthanise his terminally ill mother in New Zealand, for which he was sentenced to five months of house arrest.

Professor Davison has been placed under house arrest for the full duration of his correctional supervision. He may, however, go to work, to a place of worship or visit a doctor.

Davison may not leave the magisterial district of his residence or place of work without the permission of a correctional supervision officer.

He must partake in community service of at least 16 hours per month and has to wear a monitoring device.

The Catholic Church regards euthanasia as a grave violation of Divine Law. 

The Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s Declaration on Euthanasia says:

“No one is permitted to ask for this act of killing, either for himself or herself or for another person entrusted to his or her care, nor can he or she consent to it, either explicitly or implicitly. nor can any authority legitimately recommend or permit such an action. For it is a question of the violation of the divine law, an offense against the dignity of the human person, a crime against life, and an attack on humanity. 

“The pleas of gravely ill people who sometimes ask for death are not to be understood as implying a true desire for euthanasia; in fact, it is almost always a case of an anguished plea for help and love. What a sick person needs, besides medical care, is love, the human and supernatural warmth with which the sick person can and ought to be surrounded by all those close to him or her, parents and children, doctors and nurses,” the Vatican said in the 1980 document.

Declaration on Euthanasia, Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (1980)

Read an earlier spotlight.africa analysis of the euthanasia debate as pertains to the case of Davison.

* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.