Friday 17 December 2010

Two letters to the Times regarding Lord Falconer's Commission on Assisted Dying

I have had two letters regarding Lord Falconer's Commission on Assisted Dying published on the Times website but unfortunately neither has made the print edition of the newspaper.

They highlight my concerns about the commission's bias and also the way that Lord Falconer (pictured), the former Lord Chancellor, has misrepresented publicly the Director of Public Proseuction's guidance on assisted suicide.

You may also like to read the letter from the Care Not Killing Alliance giving the reasons why they are refusing to give evidence to the Commission.

If you have a Times subscription then you can access them on the Times website but I have reproduced them here for easier access.

Letter to Times (December 15, 2010 11:52 AM)

Dear Sir,

Lord Falconer, in promoting his new ‘Commission on Assisted Dying’, says he wants to hear ‘from all sides’ but neglects to mention that six out of his eleven initial invitees have already refused to give evidence. Why are people so reluctant to lend credibility to this enquiry?

Falconer’s commission is first unnecessary. There has already been a comprehensive recent examination of ‘assisted dying’ by a House of Lords Committee along with three parliamentary votes in the last five years all strongly rejecting a change in the law, two in the House of Lords and one in the Scottish Parliament.

It is next unbalanced. The commission was suggested by the pressure group Dignity in Dying and is being part-funded by Terry Pratchett, one of their patrons. Nine of the twelve members, handpicked by Falconer, are already known to favour a change in the law, including all five parliamentarians and all four doctors. It is furthermore to be chaired by Falconer himself, who led a failed bid to decriminalise assisted suicide in the House of Lords in 2009.

Finally, it is lacking in transparency as none of its members’ conflicting interests have been openly declared. Why is it, when the five major disability rights organisations in the UK (RADAR, UKDPC, NCIL, SCOPE, Not Dead Yet) all oppose a change in the law, that Falconer has chosen a disabled person who represents none of them and takes a contrary position? Why, when 95% of palliative medicine specialists and 65% of doctors support the status quo, has he picked four doctors who hold the minority view?

Falconer’s grand jury is nothing other than a covert ploy to pull the wool over the eyes of politicians too busy to ask questions about its independence and objectivity.

Letter to Times (December 16, 2010 10:35 AM)

Dear Sir,

The former Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer (The Times, 13 December), seriously misrepresents the Director of Public Prosecutions guidelines on assisted suicide prosecutions in two important respects.

This can be easily verified as the DPP guidelines, published in February 2010, are freely available on the Crown Prosecution Service Website. There are 16 criteria making prosecution more likely and 6 criteria making prosecution less likely.

First, he says, in a video on the Times website, that the DPP’s criteria indicate ‘when he will prosecute and when he will not prosecute’. They actually do nothing of the sort as the DPP was at great pains to point out at the time. The presence, or absence, of the various factors simply makes it more or less likely that a prosecution will be brought. Not only that, but each case must be decided on its own facts. For the DPP to make a rule of any of the factors would be ‘fettering his discretion’, which is unlawful.

Second, and more seriously, Lord Falconer includes ‘terminal illness or serious disability’ in the victim as factors making prosecution less likely. This is simply not true. The physical condition of the victim is irrelevant. In fact these criteria were removed from an earlier draft of the guidance as it was felt that they discriminated against sick and disabled people by removing legal protection from them.

Are we really to believe that the former Lord Chancellor, and chair of the ‘independent’ Commission on Assisted Dying, is really not familiar with the DPP guidelines? Or is he just being disingenuous? And if so why? And why did the Times publish these false statements without checking their facts?

These are serious questions which require serious and comprehensive answers.


  1. Do comments posted after an article really count as 'letters published by the times'?

  2. Dr Saunders' characterisation of these documents is perfectly perspicuous and etymologically correct.

  3. Yet entirely misleading


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