At the beginning of this year a group called the 'Commission on Assisted Dying' published its report. Its Chair, Lord Falconer of Thoroton (pictured above), had previously, and unsuccessfully, been active in Parliament in seeking to legalise assisted suicide and a majority of its members were on the public record as supporting a change in the law.
The group was nonetheless described by its hosting body, the think-tank Demos, as an 'independent commission' and its press release stated that it would "reach conclusions based upon the evidence brought before it".
We therefore reserved our judgement of the work of the commission until such time as we had examined its report. This we have now done and our analysis and conclusions are contained in our report entitled "Considering the Evidence". Our analysis is based not only on the report itself but also on all the published evidence that the commission took, which we have considered with care.
Our conclusion is that the report of the commission has not moved the assisted dying debate significantly forward. The proposals which the report puts forward for a legalised system of assisted suicide are very similar to those put forward by Lord Joffe six years ago and rejected by Parliament as unsafe. If Parliament is to be persuaded to license doctors to supply lethal drugs to terminally ill patients, as the report of the commission is suggesting, it needs to be convinced, first and foremost, that the law we have is in need of change. The commission has signally failed to make such a case. Indeed, it was told by the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer QC, that "the law works well in practice".
Most of the report of the commission is concerned with how rather than whether the law should be changed. Here too the commission has failed to demonstrate that the scheme it proposes could be put into practice without placing vulnerable people at risk of harm. It has also ignored one of the most significant obstacles to the legalising of physician-assisted suicide - namely, that the great majority of doctors in Britain do not regard the practice as compatible with patient care and would not be prepared to participate in it.