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Pensioner Not Guilty of 'Mercy Killing' Terminally-Ill Husband Amid UK Push for Assisted Dying Law

The couple attempted to take their own life on 20 February of last year by drinking the deadly cocktail of medications at their home, and had left a 14-page suicide note stating that they were committing suicide due to "ill-health, harassment and neighbourhood tensions", a UK court heard.

Mrs Mavis Eccleston, a pensioner who gave her terminally-ll husband a lethal dose of prescription medications as a "mercy killing", has had charges of murder and manslaughter dropped.

Mrs Eccleston, 80, of Staffordshire, was charged with murder and manslaughter over the death of her husband Dennis, 81, who was suffering from terminal bowel cancer.

Both were rushed to the hospital after being found unconscious in their Huntington-base residence. First responders were able to resuscitate Mrs Eccleston, but her husband was given a 'Do Not Resuscitate' order after he was diagnosed with terminal bowel cancer in 2015.

Ms Eccleston was arrested by local authorities a day after her husband had passed, on 21 February.

Jurors learned how Mrs Eccleston's husband passed away whilst holding his hand after nearly 60 years of marriage.

Her trial, which lasted two weeks, concluded after courts cleared her of the charges after a jury deliberated at the Stafford Crown Court.

Mr Eccleston was a retired minor and after hearing his diagnosis of bowel cancer, refused to be treated.

In the couple's suicide note, they wrote: "We Mavis and Dennis Eccleston being of sound mind have decided to end our lives because of ill-health and harassment day in and day out.

Whilst presenting evidence to the court, Mrs Eccleston said that her husband "more or less begged" for help in carrying out the mercy killing and instructed her how to do so. She also kissed his hand before they both ingested the poisonous cocktail, telling her husband of 60 years "good night darling" as she lay on the sofa.

Statements From Family, UK Dignity in Death Campaign

Joy Munns, daughter to Mr and Mrs Eccleston, said in a statement outside Stafford Crown Court that her family was "grateful and relieved" that jurors had recognised their mum's love for their dad, adding that they were worried that she could be imprisoned in the 18-month long wait for a trial.

Ms Munns, 54, said that had there been an assisted dying law in the UK, "our dad would have been able to have the choice to end his suffering, with medical support, and with his loved ones around him", adding that he would not have requested Mrs Eccleston to "do something that is considered breaking the law".

She added: “We believe there must be a change in the law so that dying people aren’t forced to suffer, make plans in secret or ask loved ones to risk prosecution by helping them, and so that no other family has to experience the pain our family has had to endure.

Campaign for Dignity in Dying CEO, Sarah Wootton, said that her organisation was pleased with the jury's verdict, but that Dennis "should not have been forced to take such drastic actions and Mavis should never have been put in this agonising position".

She added that “compassion should not be a crime" and that the UK needed a "robustly safeguarded law" that provided dying persons with the "choice and control" as well as removing the "agonising" decision away from loved ones.

Mr Wootton said, citing a study: "Not only is this a law that 84% of the British public want to see, it’s a choice that terminally ill people in ten jurisdictions across the US, Victoria in Australia and across Canada are already allowed to make.

Despite assisted dying being illegal in the UK, the Royal College of Physicians began supporting the practice in March after a survey of its 36,000 members showed changes in the organisation's perception. The House of Commons also began debating laws currently in practice in July, led by a case involving Ms Ann Whaley, who was interviewed by local authorities for accompanying her husband Geoffrey, to Dignitas, a Swiss nonprofit providing assisted suicide to members suffering from terminal illness and physical or mental disorders.

A report from the Campaign for Dignity in Dying released in early September also found that attitudes towards assisted dying were changing across the UK. Similar studies in February found that 55 percent of British GPs would take medications if they became terminally ill. Debates over assisted dying have been reopened in other court cases, namely after Phil Newby, a man suffering from motor neurone disease, was challenged by the British High Court in July, with further hearing set for autumn.

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