Right-to-die man could face more murder charges
His case has been postponed while investigations into the alleged murders get under way
Right-to-die activist Sean Davison, who appeared in court on a murder charge on Wednesday, is being investigated for more cases of assisted suicide.
Prosecutor Megan Blow asked the Cape Town Magistrates’ Court to postpone the case until November 16 to allow time for more investigation. She said “new information suggests that the accused may have committed murder in a similar fashion on more than one occasion”.
Davison, 57, was charged with the murder in 2013 of a doctor friend, Anrich Burger, who became a quadriplegic after a car crash eight years earlier.
The pro-euthanasia activist and renowned medical biologist was granted bail of R20,000, with conditions that bar him from leaving the Western Cape without police consent. He has to report regularly to his local police station in Pinelands, and is prohibited from international ports of entry such as airports and harbours.
After Davison’s court appearance, which followed a night in the cells at Sea Point Police Station, National Prosecuting Authority spokesperson Eric Ntabazalila said police had learnt that the founder and head of Dignity SA was in the country and intended leaving this month.
The University of the Western Cape (UWC) professor of biotechnology submitted an affidavit in court on Wednesday saying he had no intention of evading trial and had not only cooperated with the police but handed his South African and New Zealand passports to them.
Davison, who said he had lived in Australia since January, told magistrate Greg Jacobs that if he had intended to avoid trial he would not have returned to South Africa. Before his arrest on Tuesday, he was informed by detectives that “they would require my presence”.
He added: “I responded, informing them of exactly when I would be returning to South Africa, and I also informed them that I would be attending a seminar.
“I kept to the dates supplied to the detectives, and once I was in SA I also made an appointment for a specific date and time to attend to their office and surrender myself to the SAPS.”
Davison became an advocate for the right to assisted dying after he was arrested in New Zealand in 2010 for helping his mother, Pat — aged 85 at the time and suffering from terminal cancer — to die.
In an interview in 2014, he said his experience in helping Burger to die had left him unwilling to assist in euthanasia again. “Anrich Burger was a very close friend. I wouldn’t want to ever go through that again. It was very stressful,” Davison said in an interview with the South African Press Association at the time.
“It was a very personal experience. [This was for someone] who was desperate to die and in extreme pain. I was helping him out of compassion.”
The professor said he met Burger after the doctor contacted him to express support for Dignity SA, the organisation Davison founded in 2011 after his ordeal in New Zealand. “This started a very good friendship,” said Davison.
He said he was unperturbed about whether his assistance to Burger could lead to criminal charges. “I would be worried if there was something to worry about.”
Burger had stated clearly that he wanted to die and organised his own medication for the process, said Davison.
Describing himself in his affidavit as a “global citizen”, he told the court on Wednesday that he owned three properties in Cape Town — two in Pinelands worth more than R5m in total and one in Table View worth about R1.7m. He lived in one of the Pinelands houses with his wife and three children.
Not only was he a full-time employee of UWC, where he had worked for the past 24 years, but he had gained an “impeccable reputation” over the years, he said. “My incarceration could destroy all those years of hard work and damage my character.”
Apart from guiding postgraduate students, Davison said he was involved in a number of DNA analysis cases that would remain incomplete should he be remanded in custody.
Davison’s lab specialises in identifying individuals from highly degraded DNA and identified the anti-apartheid activists exhumed from mass graves revealed during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings. He co-founded the Innocence Project SA, which works to exonerate people wrongfully imprisoned people by analysing their DNA.
Davison also developed a DNA rape kit used in gang rape cases.