New Zealand court sentences assisted suicide scientist

This article was published by BBC News on November 23rd 2011.  To see this story and to read related stories on the BBC News website, please click here

A scientist who helped his mother to die has been given five months’ home detention by a court in New Zealand.

Sean Davison, a South Africa-based forensic specialist, admitted that he gave his 85-year-old mother a drink laced with morphine in 2006.

Judges in the city of Dunedin said he had acted out of “compassion and love” and not for personal gain.

But Davison told reporters that the sentence was unjust and he should never have been prosecuted.

“This trial was not about justice, it was about getting a conviction at all costs. I feel the law should be about humanity,” he said.

He had initially been charged with attempted murder, but the offence was later downgraded to “counselling and procuring suicide”.

High Court judge Christine French described him as an “exceptionally devoted and loving son”.

She said the 50-year-old knew he was committing a crime, but the offence was “at the lower end of the scale”.

“Although in my view there was significant premeditation, you acted out of compassion and love and not for any personal gain,” she said.

The authorities charged Davison after he wrote about his experiences in nursing his mother through the final months of her life. He said she begged him to help her die.

He received a character reference from Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who described him as “an upright citizen who has made a contribution to society and has much more to offer”.

Davison works as a forensic specialist at the University of the Western Cape, and has used DNA testing to identify the remains of activists killed and dumped in anonymous graves by authorities during the apartheid era.

He returned from South Africa voluntarily to stand trial, and will spend his home detention in New Zealand.

©  BBC News