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ss triple helix - Easter 2011,  Lord Falconer's Commission on Assisted Dying

Lord Falconer's Commission on Assisted Dying

Unnecessary, unbalanced, and lacking in transparency

Lord Falconer's Commission on Assisted Dying Unnecessary, unbalanced, and lacking in transparency

On 30 November 2010, just a day before the overwhelming defeat of Margo MacDonald's Bill, the pro-euthanasia lobby launched its latest strategy to change hearts, minds (and ultimately laws) with respect to euthanasia and assisted suicide. The aims of Lord Falconer's 'Commission on Assisted Dying', (1) set up under the auspices of left-leaning think tank 'Demos', (2) are to consider 'what system, if any, should exist to allow people to be helped to die and whether changes in the law should be introduced'. The commission will take oral and written 'evidence' throughout the year and produce a report in the autumn. Lord Falconer has been adamant about wanting to hear 'from all sides' and that his inquiry will be 'an objective, dispassionate and authoritative analysis of the issues'. However, six out of the eleven initial invitees (including myself) actually refused to give evidence. Why?

First, Falconer's commission is unnecessary. There has already been a comprehensive recent examination of 'assisted dying' by a House of Lords Committee along with three parliamentary votes in the last six years (two in the House of Lords and one in the Scottish Parliament), all strongly rejecting a change in the law.

Next, it is unbalanced. The commission was 'suggested' by the pressure group 'Dignity in Dying' and is being part-funded by Terry Pratchett, one of their patrons. Nine of the twelve members, handpicked by Falconer, are already known to favour a change in the law, including all five parliamentarians and all four doctors. It is furthermore to be chaired by Falconer himself, who led a failed bid to decriminalise assisted suicide in the House of Lords in 2009. (3)

Finally, it is lacking in transparency as none of its members' conflicting interests have been openly declared. Why is it, when the five major disability rights organisations in the UK (RADAR, UKDPC, NCIL, SCOPE, Not Dead Yet) all oppose a change in the law, that Falconer has chosen a disabled person who represents none of them and takes a contrary position? Why, when 95% of palliative medicine specialists and 65% of doctors support the status quo, has he picked four doctors who hold the minority view?

Lord Falconer, of course, is perfectly free to set up an ad hoc committee to take evidence and make recommendations to Parliament. It is a free country and he has every right to try and influence public policy. But it is somewhat disingenuous of him to pretend that a group with such clearly settled prior convictions might bring any impartiality or objectivity to bear on these important issues.

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