NICOSIA – He said he killed his wife to keep him from suffering further from blood cancer but a British man, David Hunter, is being tried in a case on Cyprus that has brought further arguments about what is euthanasia.
Hunter, 74, said he summoned the strength to suffocate his wife, Janice – then 75 – in December, 2021 at their retirement home in Paphos where many of up to 60,000 British ex-patriates on the island that was a British colony live.
The trial began June 16 but was set back to September, with defense lawyers arguing that Hunter should instead be charged with assisting a suicide but he will remain in custody until then.
Justice Abroad, a group defending Britons in foreign countries, said the case is likely the first for euthanasia on the island and comes as lawmakers debate whether to decriminalize mercy killing, with strong opposition from conservative circles, including the influential Orthodox Church.
Justice Abroad spokesman Michael Polak said she was on heavy medication while Attorney-General George Savvides rejected a defense request to reduce the charge to assisted suicide, which would likely have kept Hunter out of jail.
Speaking publicly for the first time since being charged with the killing, Hunter said he’s been propped up in daily prison telephone calls he has with his daughter, who has stood by him after her mother’s death.
“My priority is buying phone cards,” he said, the British newspaper The Guardian reported after the case was adjourned. “I talk to her every day.”
Lesley Cawthorne, 49, told the paper she had supported her father from the moment she learned he had ended her cancer-stricken mother’s “terrible pain and suffering” six months ago.
Just before Christmas, she had allegedly beseeched her husband to terminate the agony that had stripped her of any will to live, the report said, and that he said he finally did it the night of Dec. 18, blocking her air passages.
They had lived on the island for some 50 years and he said that after he killed her that he tried to take his own life, overdosing on prescription pills, unable to live with what had then happened.
If found guilty he could be sentenced to life. His daughter said she has been unable to travel to see him because of health issures but in April said, “My greatest worry is that he will die, alone, in a foreign prison and never see me or my daughter again.”
Describing her father as a “decent, honest and loving man,” she said that shortly before her mother was diagnosed with leukaemia, he had been hit by a stroke. “He made an amazing recovery but I worry about his health,” she told the paper about her fears.
“My parents moved to Cyprus to begin a dream life in a lovely climate and they loved each other and were very social people. I respect (Greek-Cypriots) laws and culture but I implore them to show compassion. The best thing they could do is to have my dad return home.”
His defense team appealed for the charge of premeditated murder to be reduced to assisted suicide to follow legislation elsewhere in Europe but that was turned down by the Attorney-General’s office.
“It’s a very sensitive issue,” said Irene Charalambidou, a lawmaker with the leftwing AKEL party who has advocated for euthanasia to be legalized. “In our country it is still seen as suicide, even murder, and in religious circles there is a lot of resistance … it is going to take time before it is passed into law,” she told the paper.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)