Euthanasia advocate censured after failing to disclose murder convictions

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A euthanasia advocate who failed to disclose three overseas murder convictions has been censured and had his registration cancelled.

Sean Davison in the High Court at dunedin in 2011.

Sean Davison in the High Court at dunedin in 2011. Photo: Photo / Otago Daily Times

Sean Davison applied to the Medical Sciences Council for registration as a medical laboratory scientist in 2017.

As part of the application, he admitted to a conviction relating to the suicide of his terminally ill mother, Patricia Davison.

In 2006, Davison administered a lethal dose of morphine to his mother, after she had repeatedly asked for help in ending her own life.

It was a case that made headlines in 2011, and at the time, sparked calls for euthanasia legislation.

However, he did not admit further involvement in three South African deaths.

The first death was in 2013, when Davison unlawfully and intentionally killed Dr Anrich Burger, a quadriplegic.

Then, in July 2015, Davison killed Justin Varian, who was diagnosed with motor neurone disease.

Finally, in November 2015, Davison killed Richard Holland, who had suffered a brain injury and had no motor function.

In March 2018, the Medical Sciences Council Registrar sent a letter to Davison asking for further information about his life since 2011.

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This was to give assurances his mother’s death was a one-off offence.

Davison replied, saying that should the registration be approved, he would only continue campaigning for euthanasia at an international level.

He did not disclose involvement in any of the three deaths in this letter.

Then, in April 2018, the registrar wrote to Davison again, requesting he comment on a media report from South Africa, and provide confirmation from the South African police that he was not facing any criminal charges.

Davison wrote back admitting the essence of the media report was correct “in that I did assist quadriplegic Dr Burger’s suicide in 2013”.

He also claimed: “It is important to note that my assistance occurred in a country, South Africa, where although the law related to assisted suicides is similar to New Zealand’s, it is essentially decriminalised until a new law is in place.

“For that reason, Dr Burger was able to inform the police of what he was going to do prior to ending his life.”

The letter was submitted along with a 10-month-old police clearance, and an assurance he would not be involved in assisted suicide in New Zealand.

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On June 18, 2018, Davison’s registration was approved.

He was arrested the following September in South Africa, and charged with the murders of the three men. He pleaded guilty to all.

In June 2019 he was convicted in the High Court of South Africa, but failed to notify the council, who found out through the media.

A month later, the Council Registrar sent a letter to Davison requesting further clarification about the convictions and why he had failed to disclose his involvement in the deaths of Varian and Holland.

Davison responded confirming his convictions and guilty pleas, and stated his involvement in the two deaths was minor compared to Dr Burger’s.

Lawyers for the council, the Professional Conduct Committee (PCC) submitted his actions in South Africa were “deliberate and serious breaches of the obligation on all health practitioners to respect the sanctity of life”.

They also said Davison had deliberately withheld relevant information and sought to downplay his involvement in all three deaths, only making admissions when confronted about media reports seen by the council.

The Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal ruled Davison’s behaviour had amounted to professional misconduct.

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In a ruling, it stated the involvement in the deaths was likely to bring discredit on the medical sciences profession and that it was information the council would have reasonably expected him to provide.

Davison has had his registration cancelled, he has been censured and ordered to pay a 25 percent contribution to the costs of both the PCC and tribunal.

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