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Mavis Eccleston has been found not guilty of the murder or manslaughter of her terminally ill husband

  • Dennis Eccleston, a former miner from Staffordshire, was diagnosed with terminal bowel cancer in 2015 at the age of 79
  • In February 2018, Dennis and his wife of almost 60 years, Mavis Eccleston, attempted to end their own lives
  • Dennis died two days later in hospital and Mavis, 80, made a full recovery following treatment
  • Following a trial at Stafford Crown Court, a jury found Mavis not guilty of murder and not guilty of manslaughter on Wednesday 18 September 2019

In a statement read outside court today, Joy Munns, 54, one of Dennis’ and Mavis’ three children, said:

“…Our family is grateful and relieved that the jury in this case could also recognise our mom’s love for our dad. But since dad’s death our family has been through a terrible ordeal, waiting over 18 months for this court case, worrying that having already lost our dad to cancer, we might now see our mom imprisoned.

“We do not believe this needed to happen. If there had been an assisted dying law here 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. He wouldn’t have had to ask our mom to do something that is considered breaking the law.

“…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.”

Joy and her family’s have given a full statement.

Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive of Dignity in Dying, said:

“We are pleased with the jury’s verdict today, but Dennis should not have been forced to take such drastic actions and Mavis should never have been put in this agonising position.

“Dennis was suffering from terminal bowel cancer and struggling with unbearable pain and other deeply distressing symptoms. He simply wanted to die on his own terms rather than endure a protracted, painful death, but because of the UK’s outdated laws on assisted dying, Dennis felt his only option was to end his own life behind closed doors. Mavis, his devoted wife, felt she had to respect his wishes, but then faced the prospect of life imprisonment simply for acting out of love.

“Compassion should not be a crime, but under the UK’s broken laws, it is. What we need is a robustly safeguarded law that provides choice and control to dying people who want it, takes agonising decisions out of the hands of their loved ones and protects the rest of society. 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. We urge Parliamentarians to act: to continue to brush this issue to one side is to prolong the suffering of dying people and their families.”


Notes to editor:

Please note that the Eccleston family will not be making any further comments at this time.

For further information, photos or interviews with Dignity in Dying, please contact Ellie Ball at / 0207 479 7732 / 07725 433 025.

Dignity in Dying

  • Dignity in Dying campaigns for greater choice, control and access to services at the end of life. It campaigns within the law to change the law, to allow assisted dying as an option for terminally ill, mentally competent adults with six months or less to live – something supported by 84% of the public [5].
  • Dignity in Dying does not provide practical assistance or advice in ending life, nor does it provide enquirers with the contact details of organisations who do so.

The true cost of the UK’s ban on assisted dying

  • Approximately 300 terminally ill people end their own life in England every year [4].
  • Currently, every 8 days [1] someone travels to Switzerland from Britain for a legal assisted death – a process which costs £10,000 on average [2] and often causes people to die earlier than they would have wanted in order to be well enough to make the journey.
  • Polling has found that over half (53%) of Brits would consider travelling abroad for an assisted death if terminally ill and two-thirds (66%) would consider breaking the law to help a loved one do so, yet only a quarter (25%) would be able to afford it [3].

Healthcare professionals

  • The British Medical Association announced on 25 June 2019 that it will survey its 160,000 members on assisted dying for the first time. The BMA is currently opposed to a change in the law on assisted dying. Its policy is decided at its Annual Representative Meeting, which voted on 25th June by 193 votes to 113 in favour of the survey.
  • The Royal College of General Practitioners announced on 22 June 2019 that it will survey its 50,000 members on assisted dying. The College is currently opposed to a change in the law on assisted dying.
  • The Royal College of Physicians dropped its longstanding opposition to assisted dying in March 2019 following a survey of its 36,000 members.

UK developments

  • In July 2019 the House of Commons debated the functioning of the current law, particularly with respect to dying people who travel overseas for an assisted death and the suffering this causes for friends and family. This was prompted in large part by the case of Ann Whaley, who was interviewed under caution by local police for accompanying Geoffrey, her husband of more than fifty years, to Dignitas.
  • A legal challenge was launched by Phil Newby, a man with motor neurone disease, in July 2019. Phil’s case aims to secure a full examination of the evidence for a change in the law on assisted dying at the High Court, including the possibility of cross-examining expert witnesses. The next stage of his case is likely to be heard in the autumn.

International developments

  • Assisted dying as an option for terminally ill, mentally competent adults in their final months of life is legal in eight US jurisdictions: Oregon (1997), Washington, Vermont, Montana, the District of Columbia, California, Colorado and Hawaii (January 2019). This year New Jersey (April) and Maine (June) voted to introduce assisted dying laws.
  • Canada legalised medical aid in dying (MAID) in June 2016.
  • Victoria became the first Australian state to legalise assisted dying for terminally ill people in June 2019. The Government of Western Australia began debating an Assisted Dying Bill in August 2019.
  • New Zealand is currently considering an End of Life Choice Bill, which passed Second Reading in June 2019.