A SON being cleared of his mother’s murder after he pushed her off a balcony has sparked a debate about assisted dying.

Robert Knight, 52, will be sentenced on September 20 after he pushed his mum June Knight, 79, off a balcony at Langley Lodge care home, in Westcliff on December 10 last year.

He was charged with murder and, while he always admitted killing his mother, Knight denied murder, saying he had lost control at the time.

Following the high profile trial - which ended when a jury returned a majority verdict last Friday - discussion has started on whether it is right to help loved ones die if they are suffering.

In 2000, Heather Pratten, 83, from Rayleigh, helped her son Nigel, who suffered from Huntington’s disease, commit suicide at home, and has fully backed a change in law.

Ms Pratten helped her son die on his 42nd birthday at his flat in East London, having suffered from Huntington’s Disease for eight years, and knew he did not want to live as it got progressively worse.

Nigel took an overdose of heroin and talked with his mother for some time on his bed.

After she woke up four hours later and realised he was near death, she put a pillow over his head.

She was charged with murder, later reduced to aiding and abetting suicide, after a post mortem examination revealed he was so close to death her actions had not made any difference.

Ms Pratten said: “I think everyone can have their own views, but I do think that everyone who is of sane mind should be able to chose what they want.

“I have not advocated it for people who are not in a position where they can make up their own minds, but I do understand all those people who have to watch their loved ones suffer through so much.

“I think we are slowly moving towards a change in the law, not quite as quick as I would like, but movements are happening.”

The Rev Simon Law, rector for St Gabriel’s Church in Pitsea and St Peter’s Church in Nevendon, is against the idea of any assistance in dying - no matter the circumstance. He said: “I feel a great sense of pain and loss when I read the sad story of June Knight.

“My mother suffers with Alzheimer’s disease and I struggle as she slips further and further away from me and loses all recognition.

“However, although I do not wish to see any human being suffer in any way and feel great compassion for those faced with terrible dilemmas, I could never agree with any form of assisted suicide or mercy killing, as it is not our decision to make – even if the sufferer is pleading with us to end their life.

“I have reached this position for two main reasons. First, it would change the whole nature of our law if we gave people permission to end someone else’s life, and secondly, from a Christian point of view, the end of life decision is in God’s hands and not ours.

“I appreciate that there will be many ‘ifs and buts’ and grey areas and cries of: ‘You don’t understand’, but I wish to stick by the principle of letting life take its natural course and for us not to play God.”

Dignity in Dying is a national campaign calling for new laws to allow terminally-ill, mentally competent adults in their final months the option of assisted dying.

However, the Essex branch of the campaign states Mrs Knight would not have had the mental capacity to qualify for such assistance, as she was in the final stages of her life suffering from severe Alzheimer’s disease, and had been given a “do not resuscitate” message at the home.

Tom Davies, director of campaigns and communications, said: “This law change would allow those whose deaths are imminent and inevitable, who are fully cognisant and able to make a clear and settled decision of their own free will, and whose suffering is beyond the reach of palliative care to have greater choice and control over their end.

“The law we propose for the UK, supported by 84 per cent of the British public, would not have been open to Mrs Knight as she would not have had the mental capacity to qualify.

“This is an important safeguard against abuse and coercion and similar laws have been proven to work safely and effectively in states in the US, Australia and across Canada.”