Health24's CyberDoc asked euthanasia prof to help him die

South Africa should legalise euthanasia as many doctors are already secretly helping elderly patients to die, Western Cape University Prof Sean Davison says. (AFP)
South Africa should legalise euthanasia as many doctors are already secretly helping elderly patients to die, Western Cape University Prof Sean Davison says. (AFP)

Sean Davison, the professor who helped his mother commit suicide, helped South African doctor and Health24's CyberDoc for 6 years, Dr Anrich Burger, end his life, the professor's spokeswoman has said.

“I can confirm that he did help Dr Burger,” An Wentzel told Sapa.

According to quotes from a speech given by Davison at the World Federation of Right to Die Societies' annual conference in Chicago, United States, on Thursday, he mentioned working with Burger.

Why Davison assisted CyberDoc's death

Burger became a “CyberDoc” on Health24, after he was left quadriplegic following an accident in 2005. Burger died in November 2013.

Anrich was involved in a motor vehicle accident in June 2005 in Botswana and was diagnosed as a quadriplegic with a C5/C6 spinal cord injury. He was no longer able to practise and started working for Health24 towards the end of 2007.

Anrich was born in Springs on the 14th of September 1970 and grew up in Port Elizabeth. He was a Craven Week rugby player and also a good swimmer. 

Anrich was also very proud of the work he did for Health24 and became very concerned and stressed when he was unable to attend to the posts regularly, because of severe neuropathic pain and other complications. 

He always said that he was worried that someone might need urgent advice or that their lives might be in danger and that there would be no-one to tell them to immediately consult a doctor.

Read: Health24's CyberDoc passes away

CyberDoc asked for help
“He asked me to be part of his plan, and I became his co-conspirator over the several months that passed before we could effect his plan,” Davison said in his speech.

“During that time, he often told me that he was feeling more at peace knowing he had an exit strategy in place, and he was sleeping peacefully for the first time.”

According to a statement from Wentzel, Davison said after his speech: “Not all quadriplegics want to die, but those who do want to, should have the option.”

Read: Do you have the right to die when you want to?

Davison's criminal record

When asked whether Davison was aware that he could face criminal charges, she said: “He is aware of that, but he believes in the cause of Dignity SA (the organisation he founded)”.

Davison took a welcome message from Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu to the US conference. Tutu had been invited, but was unable to attend.

“Davison spoke about the work Dignity SA is doing in SA, and the ongoing lobby for a law change to allow assisted dying in terminally-ill people,” Wentzel said.

“However, from comments made by Davison, it seems Dignity SA is also now working with quadriplegics.”

Davison's helped his mother commit suicide

Davison returned to South Africa from New Zealand in May 2012, after serving a five-month detention for helping his mother, who had cancer, to end her life.

She initially tried going on a hunger strike, but when that failed he gave her a lethal dose of morphine.

Davison pleaded guilty to assisted suicide in the Dunedin High Court, New Zealand, in 2011. He was originally charged with attempted murder, and was arrested in September 2010.

Davison was elected to the federation's board at its conference.

“Africa is a continent of over one billion people, and it is very important that we have representation at the highest level of this organisation,” he said in his speech.

“Dignity SA is confident that we will succeed in changing the law in South Africa, and by doing so create a model for change in other African countries.”

Read: SA doctors 'secretly help people die'

Assisted suicide and the law

According to Dignity South Africa, "South Africa’s laws currently prohibit assisted dying. It is DignitySA’s belief that it is a ‘Basic Human Right to Die with Dignity’, and that those afflicted with a terminal illness should be allowed the option to end his or her life with assistance in order to preserve personal privacy and dignity as well as alleviate suffering. DignitySA believes that assisted dying should be legalised."

The only four places, (according to that today openly and legally, authorise active assistance in dying of patients, are:

- Oregon (since l997, physician-assisted suicide only);
- Switzerland (1941, physician and non-physician assisted suicide only);
- Belgium (2002, permits 'euthanasia' but does not define the method);
- The Netherlands (voluntary euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide lawful since April 2002 but permitted by the courts since l984).

What do you think? Should assisted suicide be allowed? Let us know in the comments.

Read more:
Physician-assisted suicide a hotly debated topic
Physician-assisted suicide programme rarely used
Many in Europe favour assisted suicide

If you have a question about your health, ask our current CyberDoc for free advice

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