Saturday, December 11, 2010

When is independent not independent?

People who want to see assisted suicide permitted in the UK seem determined to get there, one way or the other.

Attempts in the House of Lords to have assisted suicide legalised have been a failure.

Some people saw the Director of Public Prosecution's being forced to state under what circumstances he would prosecute and under what circumstances he would not as an attempt to have assisted suicide allowed under some circumstances; the threat being, as they saw it, not that the law would be changed but that people would know that under some circumstances the law would not be enforced.

A commission on assisted dying has now been set up under the chairmanship of Lord Falconer. It is to trawl through evidence from people on all sides of the debate, and travel to Oregon, the Netherlands and Switzerland to see what happens where assisted suicide is permitted.

It will apparently "consider what system, if any, should exist to allow people to be assisted to die, and whether any changes in the law should be introduced." It will make an "objective analysis of the issues." It will "evaluate all the evidence on a fair basis." It will produce a report next October.

The Observer published a report about the establishment of the commission under the heading "Assisted suicide law to be reviewed by Lords," which seemed to imply that it was to be reviewed by the House of Lords. Not so. It is simply that several members of the Lords are on the commission.

It was said that the commission "will act entirely independently." Unfortunately, it was not clear independently of what, or of whom.

It turns out that the commission is the idea of the organisation Dignity in Dying, formerly the Voluntary Euthanasia Society, which helped set it up. It is financed by businessman Bernard Lewis and novelist Terry Pratchett, who is an outspoken advocate of legalised assisted suicide.

Lord Falconer unsuccessfully tried to amend the Coroners and Justice Bill in 2009 to decriminalise taking folks to Switzerland to commit suicide. The 12 members of the commission have effectively been chosen by Lord Falconer himself. Nine of them are known to support legalised assisted suicide. The position of the remaining three is not known, but they have not been known to oppose it.

Because of its evident bias, Telegraph blogger George Pitcher calls the commission "entirely bogus" and "a sham."

He says "more eminent members" of the House of Lords have written to Lord Falconer to point out that he is debasing the parliamentary principles of independent inquiry.

While anyone is free to set up a committee to consider an issue and present its views to Parliament, it seems unlikely that this commission will recommend that a change in the law is not needed.