Former Lord Chancellor Charles Falconer
(pictured) appeared on the Radio Four Sunday programme this morning. His controversial
‘commission on assisted dying’ will begin to consider the ‘evidence’ it has gathered
this coming Wednesday.
Falconer’s commission was set up
last November at the instigation of Dignity in Dying (formerly the Voluntary Euthanasia
Society). The commission has said it will take oral and written ‘evidence’ throughout
this year on whether assisted suicide should be legalised and produce a report in
the autumn. DID’s hope is that the conclusions,
when published, might influence parliament. DID was forced to go down the route
of a private commission when its attempts to get a parliamentary committee to look
at this issue failed.
There have already been three attempts
to legalise assisted suicide in Britain over the last six years but all have been
singularly unsuccessful resulting in defeats of 148-100 (Joffe Bill), 194-141 (Falconer
amendment) and 85-16 (Macdonald Bill) in 2006, 2009 and 2010 respectively.
Falconer’s commission has already
received a lot of bad press on the grounds that it is unnecessary, unbalanced and
lacking in transparency. Of the first eleven expert witnesses
originally invited to give evidence (I was one) six declined to do so. Over 50 organisations
have subsequently refused to give evidence. One of these is the British Medical
Association which today, at its annual representative meeting in Cardiff, will consider
a motion dealing directly with the commission. The text is as follows:
305 Motion by THE AGENDA COMMITTEE (Motion
to be proposed by the YORKSHIRE REGIONAL COUNCIL): That this Meeting:-
i) notes that the significant majority of
members of Lord Falconer’s Commission on Assisted Dying are publically in favour
of assisted suicide and euthanasia;
ii) supports the BMA’s stance in not giving
evidence to the DEMOS Commission on Assisted Dying;
iii) questions the stated impartiality and
independence of the Commission on Assisted Dying;
iv) requests the BMA Ethics Committee to
make the Association’s opposition to assisted suicide and euthanasia clear to the
Commission on Assisted Dying;
v) requests the BMJ editorial team to present
a balanced and unbiased coverage of the Commission on Assisted Dying.
You can listen to today’s interview
on Radio Four Listen Again (33.16-43.40 minutes).
The piece begins with the presenter Ed Stourton speaking to George Pitcher, who
has subsequently written the story up in a blog titled ‘On radio this morning, Lord
Falconer painted himself into a corner on assisted suicide’.
Pitcher made the point on radio that nine of Falconer’s twelve commissioners
have publicly supported a change the law to allow assisted suicide and that the remaining
three are certainly not against it. He called the commission ‘utterly
bogus’ and a ‘kangaroo court’ and said it was a ‘cunning bit of schoolboy politics’
for Falconer to invite people to give evidence to such a body. If they agreed they
would risk giving it a legitimacy it did not deserve. If they didn’t Falconer could
simply say that he had made every effort to involve them.
Falconer was then interviewed live.
Here is the beginning of the transcript:
Stourton: ‘Lord Falconer… it is as a matter
of fact true isn’t it that you come to this with form if you like. The funding for
your commission has come from those who are sympathetic to a change in the law so
it’s disingenuous to present yourselves as independent and objective’
Falconer: ‘I don’t think it is. I come to
it with form in this sense; I proposed an amendment to the law in the Lords… The
funding does come from two people who are in favour of a change in the law but I
and all of my commissioners have made it absolutely clear that we will approach
the matter on the evidence…’
Stourton: ‘It’s just difficult for people
to swallow that when the overwhelming majority of you are pro change isn’t it …
(chuckles) I mean it doesn’t look very independent does it?’
Falconer: ‘Well come and listen – well I’m
afraid you can’t come and listen to our private deliberations which are going to
start on Wednesday… We have done an extremely hard working job in having every single
interest represented and every single point of view heard’
Stourton: ‘Well. Wouldn’t it be fair to say
at least this that you all begin with the presumption that the law needs to change?’
Stourton: ‘Right. You’d be perfectly happy
to come out at the end of this process and say that things are perfectly all right
as they are?’
Falconer: ‘If that’s where the evidence takes
So there we have it. Falconer does
not deny that the commission is funded by campaigners and stacked full of sympathisers.
Yet he claims it will be solely influenced by the evidence. I wonder what a jury
might make of that.
It is certainly going to be an interesting
debate at the BMA meeting on Tuesday.
Dr Peter Saunders is a former general surgeon and CEO of Christian
Medical Fellowship, a UK-based organisation with 4,500 UK doctors
and 1,000 medical students as members. This article has been cross-posted from his