The British Medical Association, representing 140,000 British doctors, has this morning questioned the stated impartiality and independence of Lord Falconer’s Commission on Assisted Dying, supported the BMA leadership’s stance in not giving evidence to it and called on the British Medical Journal Editorial team to present a balanced and unbiased coverage of the Commission.
Delegates at the BMA annual representative meeting in Cardiff overwhelmingly voted this morning for a five part motion proposed by Dr Mark Pickering of the Yorkshire division (watch the debate here - listen from 1h56m and Dr Pickering's speech here)discrediting the independence of the commission in a move that will seriously undermine its credibility (Hear my podcast here)
Falconer’s commission was set up last November at the instigation of Dignity in Dying (formerly the Voluntary Euthanasia Society) to investigate how the law might be changed to allow assisted suicide and euthanasia. The commission has said it will take oral and written ‘evidence’ throughout this year and produce a report in the autumn.
DID’s hope was that the conclusions, when published, might influence parliament. This now looks very unlikely. DID was forced to go down the route of a private commission when its attempts to get a parliamentary committee to look at this issue failed.
There have already been three attempts to legalise assisted suicide in Britain over the last six years but all have been singularly unsuccessful resulting in defeats of 148-100 (Joffe Bill), 194-141 (Falconer amendment) and 85-16 (Macdonald Bill) in 2006, 2009 and 2010 respectively.
Falconer’s commission has already received a lot of bad press on the grounds that it was unnecessary, unbalanced and lacking in transparency.
Nine of Falconer’s twelve commissioners have publicly supported a change the law to allow assisted suicide and the remaining three are certainly not against it.
Of the first eleven expert witnesses originally invited to give evidence (I was one) six declined to do so.
The British Medical Association is one of over 50 organisations which have subsequently refused to give evidence.
The motion, all five parts of which were passed by a clear majority on a show of hands, reads as follows:
* 305 Motion by THE AGENDA COMMITTEE (Motion to be proposed by the YORKSHIRE REGIONAL COUNCIL): That this Meeting:-
i) notes that the significant majority of members of Lord Falconer’s Commission on Assisted Dying are publically in favour of assisted suicide and euthanasia;
ii) supports the BMA’s stance in not giving evidence to the DEMOS Commission on Assisted Dying;
iii) questions the stated impartiality and independence of the Commission on Assisted Dying;
iv) requests the BMA Ethics Committee to make the Association’s opposition to assisted suicide and euthanasia clear to the Commission on Assisted Dying;
v) requests the BMJ editorial team to present a balanced and unbiased coverage of the Commission on Assisted Dying.