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Calls for change to assisted dying law to protect families who help loved ones take their own life

Defiant and emotional, 80-year-old Mavis Eccleston is certain she did the right thing.

In February 2018, she and her husband Dennis each took an overdose of prescription medicine at their home in Staffordshire.

He had been dying from cancer, and had told his family he wanted to end his life on his own terms.

And his wife of almost 60 years had planned to die at his side.

Mavis Eccleston with her husband Dennis.

“He said he wanted to go to Switzerland, to have one of those mercy killings, but we couldn’t afford that,” she told ITV News.

“And he said he’d seen too many of his friends go through treatment and still die a horrible death.

“So he says 'I'm having no treatment at all, I'll just die when I want to die'.

“And I turned around and said [to our son]: ‘If your dad's going, I'm going, and we'll go together'. That's what I wanted to do.

“And some days I have that regret, that I've not gone with him, because he was my soulmate.”

Dennis had been facing a painful death from cancer, with doctors only giving him a few months to live.

He died in hospital after their overdose - but doctors managed to save Mavis’s life, only for her to be arrested and charged with murder.

Dennis and Mavis were married for almost 60 years.

“The kids are more angry about it than I am,” she said.

“I’ll never forget the look of shock on their faces. Dennis would have been heartbroken.”

For 18 months, she faced a criminal investigation, and then a murder trial at Stafford Crown Court.

In September last year, a jury threw out the charges.

And despite her ordeal, she insists she'd do the same again.

"I'd do the same for my husband. I'd do anything to get him out of the pain," she said.

She and her family have now thrown their weight behind a campaign by Dignity in Dying, calling for a change in the law to prevent the criminalisation of people who help their loved ones die.

Currently, people face up to 14 years in prison.

Mavis and Dennis had planned to die togther.

“It’s not right,” their daughter, Joy Munns, said.

“Who are we say to someone: ‘No, you have to spend several more weeks in pain’?

“When you love somebody that much - like she says she didn't realise she was doing anything wrong.

"In her mind, she just wanted my dad to be out of pain.

"And I'm sure any of us, if we're seeing a loved one suffer - if you have a pet, would you let it suffer? And the answer to that is no you wouldn't."

Phil Newby is among those to try to challenge assisted dying laws in the courts.

Noel Conway from Shropshire is among those who’ve fought to change the law on assisted dying before. He has motor neurone disease, and even took his case to the Supreme Court, trying to win the right to a medically-assisted death.

He was ultimately unsuccessful - calling the decision ‘downright cruel’.

Meanwhile, Phil Newby from Rutland - who is also living with motor neurone disease - has tried a different tactic. He wanted High Court judges to listen to evidence from experts, to determine whether the law was incompatible with his human rights.

He, too, was unsuccessful - though is now waiting for a date to take his case to the Court of Appeal.

“It’s horrifying, really,” he told ITV News Central today.

“For people to be arrested, and interviewed like criminals when they’ve just lost a loved one.

“This hits close to home for us. We have talked about it very seriously. At the moment there’s enough value in my life to make it a good life - but in future, my options are appalling.

Vans calling for changes to the law have patrolled Westminster today.

“I can take my own life, and force my family into a position where they’re interviewed in a police investigation.

“I could end up locked in my body, with a progressive disease which could leave me incapacitated.

“Or I can travel to a foreign country, while I’m still able to travel, and spend thousands of pounds ending my own life - money I’d rather leave to my children.

“This is not a choice we should have to make. Our NHS is the envy of the world - how do we not have options for people to be dealt with in a compassionate way?”

As part of the Dignity in Dying campaign, vans featuring adverts calling for a formal inquiry patrolled Westminster today.

Compassion, they said, is not a crime.

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In a statement, Justice Secretary Robert Buckland QC MP said: "I have the utmost sympathy for all those going through the pain of watching their loved ones deal with life-threatening and degenerative conditions.

“Any change in the law around these terribly saddening cases must be for MPs to consider as a matter of individual conscience, rather than a decision for Government.”