Assisted suicide and the “panel of experts”

The story is all over the news this morning about a new report by a “panel of experts” (according to the Independent) who are recommending that people be able to end their lives in the last year of their life. The Guardian calls it a major report. The Telegraph tells us that the group is called the Independent Commission on Assisted Dying. We are told that the criteria will be:

[it] would permit only those who had been diagnosed with less than a year to live to seek an assisted suicide, and then only if they met strict eligibility criteria. These would include:

• Two independent doctors were satisfied with the diagnosis.

• The person was aware of all the social and medical help available.

• They were making the decision voluntarily and with no sense of being pressurised by others or feeling “a burden”.

• They were not acting under the influence of a mental illness, and were capable of taking the medication themselves, without help.

Death is a difficult one. None of us wish to prolong people’s agony and suffering. But some really fundamental questions need to be asked of this commission.

Firstly, its name. There is now way that it is Independent. At least 9 of the 12 members on the commission were in favour of assisted suicide and the commission was set up by Dignity in Dying and part funded by Terry Pratchett (a campaigner for euthanasia).

Secondly, as the blog Christian Medical Comment (great article and well worth reading in full) quotes Charlie Falconer (the chair of the commission):

We heard ‘evidence from more than 40 witnesses and (considered) submissions from 1,200 individuals and institutions’. 

and comments:

What Falconer doesn’t tell is that over 40 organisations, including the British Medical Association,refused to give evidence to his enquiry on the basis that it was unnecessary, biased and lacking in transparency. He also fails to tell us that in 2005 a balanced House of Lords Select Committee carried out an official parliamentary Inquiry into assisted suicide. This covered some 246 Hansard columns and two volumes of 744 pages and 116 pages respectively, 15 oral sessions, 48 groups or individuals giving evidence, with 88 witnesses giving written evidence; 2,460 questions were asked and the committee received 14,000 letters. Falconer’s enquiry, in comparison, was not only unbalanced but miniscule.

So we have a non-independent “commission” taking little evidence to come to a pre-packaged solution.

The real danger is that we end up not valuing the last days and months of someone’s life and we continue down the path of valuing people only if they can be of “value” to our society. What happens to the vulnerable and confused old person who is seen as a burden by people in their family. How do we stop abuses to this type of system. It didn’t happen with abortion (remember the 2 doctors needed and how the “severe handicap” can now include a hair lip!) and there is no reason to believe that it would happen here.

This report needs an early grave rather than people who in the eyes of God are of enormous value.

Update 10am 5th Jan

Well I never. The church of England is quick out of the blocks on this one. They have already responded, strongly, to the proposals. Good on them.

The ‘Commission on Assisted Dying’ is a self-appointed group that excluded from its membership anyone with a known objection to assisted suicide. In contrast, the majority of commissioners, appointed personally by Lord Falconer, were already in favour of changing the law to legitimise assisted suicide. Lord Falconer has, himself, been a leading proponent for legitimising assisted suicide, for some years.

The commission undertook a quest to find effective safeguards that could be put in place to avoid abuse of any new law legitimising assisted suicide.  Unsurprisingly, given the commission’s composition, it has claimed to have found such safeguards.

Unlike the commissioners, we are unconvinced that the commission has been successful in its quest. It has singularly failed to demonstrate that vulnerable people are not placed at greater risk under its proposals than is currently the case under present legislation. In spite of the findings of research that it commissioned, it has failed adequately to take into account the fact that in all jurisdictions where assisted suicide or euthanasia is permitted, there are breaches of safeguards as well as notable failures in monitoring and reporting.


4 comments on “Assisted suicide and the “panel of experts”

  1. TheEvangelicalLiberal
    January 5, 2012 at 11:58 am #

    Hi Will, interesting article, and very quick off the mark! I’m in broad agreement about the commission and its findings; however, I think the issue of euthanasia/AD is a little more complex than you seem to be suggesting, and in my view there may be cases where AD is the least worst option. I do strongly agree that the vulnerable need to be protected though.

    I’m planning a blog post on the subject myself as soon as I get a spare moment or two!


    • Will Cookson
      January 5, 2012 at 12:05 pm #

      Harvey, Look forward to your post.

      Of course, it can be complex. We already allow for assisted death when we turn off the life support system of a person or even when we don’t prosecute someone who has helped a loved one end their life.

      The key though is that the presumption is for life. It’s a very British and messy compromise but it appears to work. If legislation went through then I think all that would change and there could easily end up a presumption of ending someone’s life all too easily – whatever the “legislative safeguards”.

      • TheEvangelicalLiberal
        January 5, 2012 at 12:14 pm #

        Hi Will, yes, those are good points. I must admit I’m not fully au fait with the current laws – under what circumstances is it currently legal to switch off a life support system? And is it always the case that the courts don’t prosecute someone who’s helped a loved one end their life, or is that simply a matter of discretion?



  1. SHOCK: The Commission on Assisted Dying – A group of Pro-Euthanasia experts find in favour of euthanasia | eChurch Blog - January 5, 2012

    […] Will’s Blog – Assisted suicide and the “panel of experts” […]

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