Euthanasia advocate Sean Davison has been sentenced to eight-years house arrest for murder in a plea deal in the Western Cape High Court, reports News24. Five of the years have been suspended.
The report says in terms of the deal accepted by Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe, Davison will effectively serve three years under house arrest, performing community service.
Davison had pleaded guilty to the charges of assisting three people who wanted to end their lives. They were Anrich Burger, via a lethal amount of drugs in November 2013; Justin Varian via a bag over his head and administering helium in July 2015, and Richard Holland in November 2015 via a lethal amount of drugs.
The 57-year-old made international headlines in 2010 after giving his mother, who was suffering from terminal cancer, a lethal dose of morphine. The Citizen reports he spent five months under house arrest in New Zealand.
Davison founded Dignity South Africa in 2011 to campaign for the legalisation of euthanasia in South Africa.
The report says in December 2016, South Africa’s Supreme Court of Appeal overturned a ruling that granted a man the right to medically assisted death and could have opened the way to legalise euthanasia. The government appealed against the initial judgment, saying it could lead to assisted-suicide legislation that would be open to abuse.
The report says medically assisted suicide or voluntary euthanasia is illegal in South Africa, but in recent years there have been growing calls for it to be legalised. Retired Anglican archbishop and anti-apartheid icon Desmond Tutu, 86, has previously said he would like to be allowed the option of a dignified assisted death.
According to an IoL report, the Johannesburg High Court will soon hear a case by two terminally ill patients who want to exercise the right to be euthanised. Last month, the Centre for Applied Legal Studies (Cals) at Wits University was admitted as a friend of the court in the case against the Health Department by two terminally ill patients who want the right to die.
The report says Dr Sue Walter and Dieter Harck first approached the court in 2017, asking that they be allowed to choose to end their lives with the assistance of a willing doctor. The two argue that physician-assisted dying should not be criminalised or treated as unprofessional conduct.
Vuyolethu Mntonintshi from Cals said the Davidson case was important in opening the dialogue around assisted dying. “It is one of those conversations that have not taken place in South Africa. If it does come before the courts, it will open the public discourse.”
Mntonintshi said in the report that it was important for people to have the right to life, but to also die in a dignified manner. “A physician-assisted death should be part of our laws. It has to form the right to health as well. We are arguing that someone does not necessarily reach a point of torturing themselves, like refusing to take medication or food so that they can die.
“Denying access to assisted dying is an unjustifiable limitation on the right to health. Instead, the law should recognise and respond to the needs of those with a terminal illness who wish to end their suffering, and put in place regulations that ensure vulnerable individuals are protected.”
Mntonintshi said they argued that everyone had to have a good quality of life.
“We understand that this must be done in an ethical manner. If the legislation is to be changed, it has to be done with the assistance of medical practitioners.”
Doctors for Life has labelled Davidson’s sentence as lenient. Doctors for Life CEO Albie van Heerden is quoted in the report as saying: “We, as doctors, watch that suffering daily with our patients and we’re not untouched by that suffering. But killing is never the option; it’s cheaper, and always quicker, but it’s a dangerous, slippery slope.”
Meanwhile, a Cape Times report says the final step in the process for the controversial draft ‘Right to Die’ Amendment Bill to be legalised has been delayed by the election of the new Parliament. Officially named the draft Amendment Bill to the National Health Act 61 of 2003, the Bill seeks to legalise a living will, which would make it legal to assist the dying in passing over peacefully and on their own terms.
The report says the Bill was first brought forward by right-to-die advocates DignitySA, and was co-authored by one of its members, Willem Landman. According to Landman, many other countries are also reconsidering their standpoints on assisted dying.
“The election of a new Parliament has delayed the process. The two instruments are both already embedded in the National Health Act 61 of 2003, but for various reasons doctors often refuse to act on them. That is wrong, given the principles of autonomous decision-making and informed consent,” Landman is quoted in the report as saying. “So, the amendment seeks to provide guidance and give comfort to doctors who fear they might expose themselves to legal action. Many patients suffer needlessly and unjustifiably because some think, incorrectly, that they are the sole decision-makers.
“The living will and durable power of attorney for health care are two instruments that enable patients to make certain decisions when life is no longer worth living,” he said.