LONDON, January 5, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) - The report of a UK commission which said assisted suicide should be legalized, has been strongly criticized by UK groups opposed to changes in the law, who charge the “self-appointed” commission with producing a report that is blatantly biased and flawed.
The commission was chaired by Lord Charles Falconer, who was Lord Chancellor under Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair, and the leader of a cadre in Parliament who ardently campaigned to legalize assisted suicide. It was composed almost exclusively of euthanasia and assisted suicide advocates.
The commission concluded that assisted suicide should be legalized for persons over 18, who are mentally competent, terminally ill and diagnosed as having less than 12 months to live, and making a voluntary choice.
The BBC reports that only one commissioner, Reverend Dr. James Woodward, an Anglican priest and Canon of St George’s Chapel, Windsor, disagreed with the conclusions of the report
A statement issued Thursday by Rt Rev James Newcome, Bishop of Carlisle and spokesman on health care topics for the Church of England, said the commission excluded anyone who objected to legalizing assisted suicide, and the report “singularly failed” to provide evidence that vulnerable people would be protected under the new proposals.
“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 legitimize assisted suicide. Lord Falconer has, himself, been a leading proponent for legitimizing assisted suicide, for some years,” Bishop Newcome wrote.
The commission was set up under the auspices of the assisted suicide advocacy group “Dignity in Dying,” and was funded by author Sir Terry Pratchett, who last year produced and starred in a pro-assisted suicide documentary entitled “Terry Pratchett: Choosing to Die.”
In the film Pratchett accompanies a man, known only as “Peter,” who suffers from motor neurone disease, as his health declines and he chooses to take his life at the Dignitas “clinic” in Zurich, Switzerland.
“I am a firm believer in assisted death,” said Pratchett, who suffers from a rare form of early Alzheimer’s. “I believe everybody possessed of a debilitating and incurable disease should be allowed to pick the hour of their death. And I wanted to know more about Dignitas in case I ever wanted to go there myself.”
Pratchett filmed “Peter” in his last hours and taking his own life, with Pratchett looking on.
While assisting in a suicide remains a criminal offence in England and Wales, punishable by up to 14 years in prison, in 2010 guidelines were introduced instructing the judiciary not to prosecute individuals to help a family member to kill themselves at facilities such as the Dignitas “clinic.”
“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,” the Church of England statement condemning the commission said. “Unsurprisingly, given the commission’s composition, it has claimed to have found such safeguards.”
However, the Church, Bishop Newcome wrote, is “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.”
“Put simply, the most effective safeguard against abuse is to leave the law as it is. What Lord Falconer has done is to argue that it is morally acceptable to put many vulnerable people at increased risk so that the aspirations of a small number of individuals, to control the time, place and means of their deaths, might be met. Such a calculus of risk is unnecessary and wholly unacceptable,” Bishop Newcome concluded.
Dr. Peter Saunders, director of the Care Not Killing anti-euthanasia group, agreed with the Church of England statement.
“This investigation was unnecessary, biased and lacking in transparency and its report is seriously flawed. It is being spun as a comprehensive, objective and independent review into this complicated issue. It is anything but,” Dr. Saunders stated.
“What the commission is proposing is a less safe version of the highly controversial Oregon law, which sees the terminally ill offered drugs to kill themselves, but not expensive lifesaving and life-extending drugs,” he said in a statement. “Its so-called ‘proposed safeguards’ are paper-thin and have already been rejected three times in the last six years by British parliaments. These recommendations if implemented will place vulnerable people under increased pressure to end their lives so as not to be a burden on others. The so-called right to die can so easily become the duty to die.”
Dr. Phil Friend, OBE, who along with Baroness Jane Campbell, DBE, and Dr. Kevin Fitzpatrick, OBE, have established the “Not Dead Yet” UK campaign (http://www.notdeadyetuk.org/) to prevent a change in the law on assisted dying, said, “There isn’t a route to ‘safely’ offer a choice of assisted dying to people, whatever the criteria.”
Not Dead Yet have launched The Resistance Charter campaign, which, along with a petition campaign, seeks to highlight disabled and terminally ill people’s fears and to ensure legislation prohibiting assisted suicide and euthanasia remains in place.
The director of Belfast’s pro-life group Precious Life, Bernadette Smyth, said the report on “Assisted Dying” is another attack on the dignity of the weak and vulnerable, adding that the situation must never arise where the terminally-ill, disabled, or the elderly feel pressured by society to end their lives.
“This report released by the ‘Commission on Assisted Dying’ is part of a strategy to convince the public that elderly, disabled, or terminally-ill people are better off dead,” Smyth stated in a press release.
“This is part of the ‘culture of death’ that is attempting to change attitudes in society, to where killing the weak and vulnerable becomes normal and acceptable. So-called “Assisted Dying” - which is only a sugarcoated name for killing - is contrary to the dignity of the human person and therefore totally unacceptable.”
“Those whose lives are diminished or weakened deserve special respect and should be helped to lead lives as normal as possible, not killed!” Smyth concluded.
The text of the “Commission on Assisted Dying” report is available here.