Lord Falconer and his sham Commission that could lead to 13,000 deaths a year

Dr Peter Saunders

Last updated at 11:23 PM on 4th January 2012




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Dr Peter Saunders is the Campaign Director of
anti-euthanasia group Care Not Killing

On Thursday, Lord Falconer will launch his Commission on Assisted Dying. The Commission, which includes several well known figures including the controversial former head of the Metropolitan Police Ian Blair, masquerades as independent, but it is anything but.

Scratch the veneer of who sits on the Commission and has paid for it and you will see a who’s who of the pro-euthanasia elite.

This private Commission was set up by Charlie Falconer, an outspoken supporter of euthanasia, after three failed attempts in Parliament to change the law on ‘assisted dying’. The last attempt in Westminster was personally led by Lord Falconer himself in 2009 with his close friend and former Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt.

Contentious: Lord Falconer’s Commission on Assisted Dying includes well known figures such as former Met Commissioner Ian Blair (left)

A further eight members of the 11-strong Commission are also known supporters of changing the law, ranging from the aforementioned Lord Blair, who seems to justify his position on the grounds that policemen don’t like interviewing the relatives of those assisted in killing themselves, to Baroness Young of Old Scone, a backer of the failed Falconer amendment in the Lords.  

But the smoke and mirrors does not end here. The Commission has made considerable noise about the disabled person amongst their number. While all the major disability rights organisations in the UK (RADAR, UKDPC, NCIL, SCOPE, Not Dead Yet) oppose a change in the law, Stephen Duckworth, Chief Executive of ‘Disability Matters Limited’, actually backs a change to legalisation.

‘Disability Matters Limited’ sounds grandiose but it is in reality it was just a private business – which according to the Companies House website was dissolved in the summer of 2010. So who does Mr Duckworth represent?

Now let’s turn to the medical professionals on the panel. Whilst 95 per cent of palliative medicine specialists, and the overwhelming majority of all doctors are opposed to a change in the law, Lord Falconer has managed again to find two who buck that trend in Professor Sam Ahmedzai, Professor of Palliative Medicine in Sheffield, and Dr Carole Dacombe, Medical Director, St Peter’s Hospice.

The Commission also fails to make any mention of the fact that there is not a single hospice which supports a change in the law, including Dr Dacombe’s.

Public support: Sir Terry Pratchett, who believes in people with dementia being euthanised when they ask for it, is the Commission's banker

Public support: Sir Terry Pratchett, who believes in people with dementia being euthanised when they ask for it, is the Commission’s banker

If the membership is bad, then look at who has paid for the Commission. The colourful novelist Sir Terry Pratchett, who publicly supports people with dementia being euthanised when they ask for it, is the banker for the Commission. Dignity in Dying,  previously called the Voluntary Euthanasia Society, is also sponsoring it.

At the launch of the Commission, I asked the then Demos Director Kitty Ussher about how the members of the Commission were selected and she confirmed that they had been effectively handpicked by Lord Falconer himself.

And what about Demos itself. Over the last decade the think-tank had built a solid reputation for turning out some good work, so it is hugely surprising that they should allow their name to be associated with such a rigged report.

But then, this was perhaps the effect of Ms Ussher, former parliamentary private secretary and close friend of Patricia Hewitt, co-sponsor of the Hewitt/Falconer amendment.  

Perhaps Ms Ussher’s involvement also explains the deliberately muddled language that the Commission uses. ‘Assisted dying’, as the commission calls it, includes euthanasia, one person taking the life of another, and seeks to open the door to a Dutch-style law, which according to a 2005 House of Lords enquiry would lead to 13,000 deaths a year in the UK.

Is it any wonder that six out of Lord Falconer’s 11 initial invitees and over 40 organisations, including the British Medical Association, refused to give evidence and why the Commission is viewed with derision by many who have yet to make up their minds on the issue.

This deeply worrying and flawed report does not add a single new argument or fact to the debate on assisted suicide and euthanasia and should be seen for what it is, part of a concerted effort by those who back assisted suicide and euthanasia to change the law.

Debate: 'Assisted dying', as the commission calls it, includes euthanasia, one person taking the life of another, and seeks to open the door to a Dutch-style law (picture posed by models)

Debate: ‘Assisted dying’, as the commission calls it, includes euthanasia, one person taking the life of another, and seeks to open the door to a Dutch-style law (picture posed by models)

They are doing this by deliberately trying to sell us a very minor change, knowing full well that once this door is open, it will never be shut. This is an incremental strategy.

The existing law ensures that every suspected case is reviewed by the police and the DPP. It protects those who have no voice against abuse and coercion by sending a clear message that if your motives are anything other than ‘wholly motivated by compassion’, you could face prosecution.

And the penalties it holds in reserve act as a strong deterrent to those who might profit in any way from another person’s death. Let’s keep it that way.

Here’s what other readers have said. Why not add your thoughts,
or debate this issue live on our message boards.

The comments below have not been moderated.

Rev Paul Farnhill’s comment (is he really a Reverend or that just a feeble bit of Troll humour?) is fairly typical of the dim-witted reflex reaction of liberals to the whole question of assisted dying. To the modern day liberal, it seems, every important issue can be reduced to a simple question of freedom of choice. I would suggest that for a more intelligent assessment of the dangers of ‘assisted dying’ he read the last two paragraphs of the article instead of dismissing it (probably unread) out of hand.

Remember what happened with abortion – where what was presented as a humanitarian desire to help those who needed it, now we have abortion on demand, with thousands of abortions every year. The potential for abuse is, if anything, even larger with this scheme, put forward by people who had already made up their minds before they looked at the question.

It is most encouraging that the Mail is supporting the sanctity of life and printing this well-informed article by Dr Peter Saunders. However, I would be more encouraged if this same newspaper refrained from consistently labelling disabled, chronically sick and terminally ill people as lazy scroungers who don’t ‘deserve’ welfare benefits!!
If we believe in the value of each human life and consider ourselves a civilised and compassionate society, we should be prepared to pay for welfare benefits, health and social care services to enable people to have a good quality of life. All three are needed; terminally ill people need enough money to live with dignity AND adequate health and social care services to help them to live and die well, not to die prematurely because a lack of support renders their lives unbearable. Until the resources are there to give terminally ill people the best possible quality of life without feeling a burden, this report is dangerous, irrelevant and premature.

How typical of the Mail to be opposed to people controlling their own lives. My life, my choice.

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