Disabled campaigners have raised concerns about the “worrying” and “disturbing” decision to give more than one million pounds of public lottery money to the sister charity of the main organisation lobbying for assisted suicide to be legalised.
The disabled people’s organisation Not Dead Yet UK, which campaigns against legalising euthanasia and assisted suicide, said there were “serious questions to be asked” about the decision to award the money to the charity Compassion in Dying, and its links with the campaigning organisation Dignity in Dying (DiD).
Compassion in Dying (CiD) was set up seven years ago by Dignity in Dying (DiD), and shares its offices and some of its staff, including policy and research and press officers.
But CiD has been given more than £1 million by the Big Lottery Fund (BLF) to work with local Age UK branches to expand its My Life, My Decision (MLMD) training and advocacy project – informing “vulnerable older people” about their legal rights at the end of life, and providing training to health and care professionals.
CiD insists that the money is “restricted funding” so there is “no possibility that the grant from Big Lottery could be used for any other purposes than it was donated for”.
But Dr Kevin Fitzpatrick, of Not Dead Yet UK, said: “I think it is very worrying to hear that a sister organisation of the voluntary euthanasia lobby has been given more than one million pounds of Big Lottery money.
“I think it’s even more disturbing to find that they share staff, especially that they share policy officers.
“In that regard, I think there are serious questions to be asked about the closeness of this relationship, which allows the pro-assisted suicide lobby to share overheads and offices and staff with a sister organisation which receives public money.”
He added: “There are serious concerns when the sister organisation of the pro-assisted suicide lobby, which campaigns vigorously for a change in the law, is running advice programmes for – in their own words – vulnerable older people, who after all are the target group for euthanasia laws in other parts of the world.”
Most DiD staff work under a joint contract of employment, so they are employed by both Dignity in Dying and Compassion in Dying, which itself “undertakes charitable work which was previously carried out by Dignity in Dying”.
On its website, CiD admits that it “works in partnership with the campaigning organisation Dignity in Dying, which campaigns for a change in the law to allow terminally ill, mentally competent adults to have the choice of an assisted death”.
Danielle Hamm, director of CiD, said in a statement: “All activities have to be reported to Big Lottery over the life of the project and are scrutinized and audited by them.”
She said the two “sister” organisations “share a desire to see individual choice at the heart of end-of-life decision making”.
Hamm added: “Compassion in Dying supports the uptake of existing legal rights and is not involved in Dignity in Dying’s campaign for assisted dying for terminally ill, mentally competent adults, within the last six months of life.”
She said they were separate organisations, with their own bank accounts, boards, accounting records, and financial governance.
A spokesman for CiD and DiD said Compassion in Dying had “nothing to do with the campaign for assisted dying”.
But he said: “There is concern over where this Big Lottery money is going. It’s going to CiD, to the MLMD project with Age UK, it’s not going to DiD.”
And he added: “I can see why there is some confusion.”
He said BLF was aware of the relationship between the two organisations when it made the award to CiD.
And he insisted that the advisers training older people on end-of-life rights would not be telling them about laws on assisted suicide, or suggesting that they lobby for a change in the law.
He said: “I don’t think assisted suicide will come up in these discussions about training people on end-of-life rights. They would not be encouraging people to take advantage of those laws.”
Later this month, peers will debate the second reading of the Labour peer Lord Falconer’s private member’s bill, which would allow doctors to help end the lives of those they judge to be terminally-ill, a bill that is heavily supported and promoted by DiD.
A BLF spokeswoman said in a statement: “All grants are monitored throughout the life of the project to ensure funds are used for the original purposes.
“We are confident that Compassion in Dying is helping older people to have the best support and advice.”
She added: “There is nothing that we have that indicates that CiD is involved in campaigning on assisted dying. That is all done by DiD. Our understanding is that they are a completely separate organisation.
“The money we have provided is specifically for a project and cannot be used for anything else.
“There is nothing to indicate it is being used for any other purposes other than the project for which it was intended.”
Age UK said in a statement: “At a national level, Age UK is not working with Compassion in Dying and it is not our policy to support a change in the law on assisted dying.
“Some local Age UKs are working with CiD to provide information and support for people to make choices about their care at the end of life. These are entirely local decisions taken by local Age UKs, which are independent charities in their own right.”
3 July 2014