Doubt cast on impartiality of assisted suicide commission


A leading think-tank claims a new commission set up to investigate legalising assisted suicide will be independent and impartial, even though it is funded and chaired by leading pro-legalisation campaigners.

The Commission on Assisted Dying will be chaired by the former Labour minister Lord Falconer and part-funded by the author Terry Pratchett, and has been set up on their behalf by the pro-assisted suicide campaigning charity Dignity in Dying.

Lord Falconer has spoken in the Lords on the issue – last year he tried unsuccessfully to introduce a pro-assisted suicide amendment to a bill in the Lords – while Pratchett has also been outspoken in calls for legalisation since being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

The think-tank Demos will launch the commission on 30 November and it will sit for nearly a year, aiming to “explore a safeguarded process for assisted dying”.

It is the latest in a long line of attempts – all fiercely opposed by disabled people’s organisations – to force through legalised assisted suicide or euthanasia.

A Demos spokeswoman insisted that the commission would be independent of Demos, which will act as its “secretariat”, and of the two donors funding its work – one of whom is Pratchett – and Dignity in Dying.

When asked how a commission chaired by Lord Falconer, co-funded by Terry Pratchett and set up by Dignity in Dying could be impartial, she said: “Because the other commissioners come from a wide range of backgrounds and their job is not to come to the commission with pre-formed ideas, it is to assess the evidence brought before the commission and make judgments on that.”

But she declined to name the other commissioners, and refused to say whether they were supporters of “assisted dying”, adding: “They have been selected because they represent a range of backgrounds and experiences.”

Asked if the commission would be biased towards legalising assisted suicide, she said: “It is an entirely independent commission that will make its conclusions based on the evidence brought before it.”

But Baroness [Jane] Campbell, a leading disabled campaigner against legalising assisted suicide, said that at this stage – before the full make-up of the commission was known – it “does not look in the least independent”.

She added: “Demos may make all the claims of independence it likes, but if the commissioners and funders are heavily weighted towards those who support assisted suicide then the manner with which they will look at the evidence will be seen through this prism.”

Baroness Campbell said she was keen to discover whether the commission would involve “knowledgeable disabled people with the experience of severe impairment”.

11 November 2010