Stacking the Deck - The Tale of Two Reports

"Never suggest an inquiry unless you know the outcome beforehand."  A commonly used phrase in politics and, most likely, the kind of advice Sir Humphrey Appleby might have given Jim Hacker MP in the British political comedy,  !Yes Minister


Whether a dictate of modern politics or not, the idea that one could 'engineer' the outcome of an inquiry towards a preconceived end must be a significant temptation for those who hold the levers of power.  Though possibly nothing more than a utilitarian 'shortcut' to some 'good end' for some, the danger remains that contrary voices are not heard and that the public is hoodwinked into accepting a false outcome as being the result of a robust review.

I write with two reports in mind.  Both focussed on what we might broadly call 'end-of-life issues' and both recommending the legalisation of assisted suicide.

The Royal Society of Canada, End of life Decision Making report was released last December and reported, among other things, as follows: The evidence from years of experience and research where euthanasia and/or assisted suicide are permitted does not support claims that decriminalization will result in vulnerable persons being subject to abuse or a slippery slope from voluntary to non-voluntary euthanasia.  As one canny commentator observed,"What! Don't they know how to use Google?"

Florid rhetoric, perhaps; but as Professor Margaret Somerville noted in the Montreal Gazette, 'It is not "a careful, balanced review of various pros and cons of decriminalization of physician-assisted death from well-reasoned ethical and legal standpoints" - which is what was required in the panel's mandate.  It's an unabashed pro-euthanasia manifesto. That's not surprising. Many of the report's authors are well known euthanasia advocates, as are the people whom the panel consulted.' (For a more fulsome understanding of problems with the report, I suggest you read Margaret's article in full HERE)

You can also read an expose on the background of the six panel members at Wesley J Smith's blog: Second Hand Smoke. So much for the Society's aspirational statement: be balanced, thorough, independent, free from conflict of interest, and based on a deep knowledge of all of the published research that is pertinent to the questions that have been posed.

Then there's the UK Commission on Assisted Dying. 'Sounds rather official, doesn't it? But, as CareNotKilling's Peter Saunders points out: "This private commission was sponsored by Dignity in Dying, formerly the Voluntary Euthanasia Society, and financed by one of their patrons, with panel members being handpicked by Lord Falconer, a leading advocate of changing the law."  Headed by long-time promoter of assisted suicide, Lord Falconer, the Commission was sponsored by the so-called Dying in Dignity assisted suicide lobby group and jointly funded by pro-assisted suicide filmmaker, Terry Pratchett.

Saunders goes on to describe how nine of the eleven members on the commission were known backers of assisted suicide with, 'strong ideological vested interest in this as an outcome', and how the recognised 'overt bias' in the structure of the commission was the reason that, 'over 40 organisations including the British Medical Association and many individuals boycotted the inquiry.'

Pratchett himself told Skynews that the report did not go far enough; which, at least suggests that the part-funder didn't get things all his own way. However, Daily Mail journalist, George Pitcher quotes commissioner Joyce Robbins exposing the real agenda: "I think we can only go for terminal illness at the moment, so this doesn't actually apply to people who are probably about to go into care homes. But, you know, baby steps."

As Alex Schadenberg observed, these reports appear to have been designed to prove a hypothesis, with any evidence that might lead to another conclusion simply being ignored.

And remember; these were not inquiries instigated by a parliament to explore an issue under debate.  Whenever and wherever parliamentary inquiries have been conducted, they've found against assisted suicide and euthanasia legislation on public safety grounds.  It seems fairly clear that the reason these two inquiries didn't find, likewise, against changing the law was because such an outcome was never really a possibility.

No doubt, euthanasia amp; assisted suicide advocates jumped for joy at the release of these two reports.  Probably as close to 'knock-down arguments' as they'll ever see.  But persistence in quoting from them is foolhardy given the pummelling by public scrutiny ever since.

Leaving the last word, as always, to Sir Humphrey: 'Sometimes one is forced to consider the possibility that affairs are being conducted in a manner which, all things being considered and making all possible allowances is, not to put too fine a point on it, perhaps not entirely straightforward.'