Friday, 20 September 2013

Sean Davison Is Not A Hero

Sean Davison and his mother
Photo from The Guardian

Should terminally ill people be legally entitled to assistance in order to commit suicide? This is a highly emotional subject. Yet, despite the raw emotions surrounding it, where it is illegal to assist someone to die, the law must be obeyed. We simply cannot afford to celebrate anyone who breaks laws designed to protect our right to life. Yet this is exactly what Dignity South Africa and many of its supporters do.

Dignity South Africa was founded by Sean Davison in 2011, after he was charged with attempted murder in New Zealand and about 5 years after he gave his mother a lethal overdose of morphine. (I cannot help wonder whether Dignity South Africa was not initially founded as a clever PR exercise, designed to put a spin on what Sean Davison had done and distract attention onto the emotional issue.) 

Sean Davison was eventually only convicted on a lesser charge of assisting his mother, Patricia Ferguson, to commit suicide. This was because he had agreed to a plea bargain to avoid the more serious charge.

While Sean Davison and his supporters have always argued that he was completely candid about what he did, the facts of the matter show that this is not entirely true. In reality for nearly 4 years Sean Davison hid the fact that he had helped his mother die in October 2006.

Sean Davison claims that in 2006 he crushed a number of morphine tablets into a powder and mixed them with water. He then gave this lethal drink to his terminally ill mother, knowing that it would cause her to die. Sean Davison claims that this is exactly what his mother wanted, though we of course have only his word for that.

Sean Davison’s book, “Before We Say Goodbye”, specifically excluded details of what he had done when it was first published in 2009. The truth only became known when a concerned person leaked a draft version of his book in 2010, nearly 4 years after the crime. This leaked draft version of the book included the details of his crime and led to his arrest.

Sean Davison is quoted by Dignity South Africa as saying: “I have no regrets about what I did to assist my mother to her death, because I did nothing wrong. I’ve done my sentence, but I committed no crime.

This statement by Sean Davison is of course absolutely not true! Sean Davison sounds delusional. He most certainly did commit a crime! We know this because he not only pleaded guilty to the crime but was convicted for the crime! 

The mere fact that Sean Davison chose to hide the details of what he had done, when he first published his book in 2009, is clear evidence that he knew that he had committed a crime. It also shows that he knew that he would be punished for this crime and therefore he decided to hide this information, just as any ordinary criminal would do to avoid punishment.

Dignity South Africa has of course turned what Sean Davison did into a heroic gesture, worthy of praise and an example to society. They even have a saying along the lines of: "No mother should need a Sean."

In my opinion, organisations like Dignity South Africa and their supporters do society a grave injustice when they celebrate the actions of Sean Davison. They make a ‘hero’ out of a criminal, but most concerning is that they send a clear message to the world that they support his actions to end the life of another person.

Dignity South Africa ignores the fact that Sean Davison disregarded a law that protects an individuals right to life! They also ignore the fact that he singlehandedly decided that, regardless of how emotional involved he was in the matter, he was capable of deciding that it was time to bring another individuals life to an end. 

Dignity South Africa should most certainly not be holding Sean Davison up as a shining example for the rest of society! Instead they should be sending a very clear message that no person has the right to disregard a law that is designed to protect an individuals right to life. No one person has the right to decide that the time has arrived to end, directly or indirectly, the life of another individual.

We most certainly do not want a society full of people with terminally ill parents, children, spouses or other loved ones, believing that it is somehow acceptable to disregard the law and take matters into their own hands to cause, directly or indirectly, the death of terminally ill people, like Sean Davison did.

Yet the message from Dignity South Africa seems to be saying exactly that. Dignity South Africa seems to be saying that they celebrate that Sean Davison broke the law and that he decided to help end the life of another individual. They also seem to saying that when someone does what Sean Davison did, that person should be acclaimed as a hero by society.

If we believe that the law needs to be changed, then we must take actions to get the law changed, as Dignity South Africa is doing. However, until that change happens, we cannot each begin deciding that we think it is appropriate for us to help end an individuals life. The scenarios that could play out are just too horrendous to consider. 

We must adhere to the law that protects the right to life. We must send a loud and firm message that we reject those, like Sean Davison, who deem it acceptable to break laws that protect the right to life!