March 3rd 2012

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Articles from this issue:

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Labor pushes the self-destruct button

QUEENSLAND: Issues facing voters on March 24

EDITORIAL: Beyond the leadership woes: Labor's identity crisis

RURAL AFFAIRS: Huge cost of abolishing national wheat pool

ENVIRONMENT: Rudd's costly carbon capture scheme a dud

ENVIRONMENT: Earth Hour: World Wildlife Fund publicity stunt

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS: Western media duped by mirage of Arab Spring

UNITED STATES: Obama's left-wing diplomacy a global failure

STOCK MARKET: From mutual associations to profit-seeking enterprises

CIVILISATION: Has Europe lost its soul?

MARRIAGE: Don't blame gay lobby for decline in marriage

EUTHANASIA: Stacking the deck by suppressing contrary views

CINEMA: Baker Street sleuth's new look

BOOK REVIEW Should America have dropped the Bomb?

BOOK REVIEW A child's imagination is a terrible thing to waste

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Stacking the deck by suppressing contrary views

by Paul Russell

News Weekly, March 3, 2012

“Never set up an inquiry unless you know in advance what its findings will be” was civil servant Sir Humphrey Appleby’s memorable advice to his boss, the Right Honourable Jim Hacker MP, in the British comedy series, Yes Minister.

Whether or not this cynical approach is indeed an imperative of modern politics, it must always be a temptation for wielders of power to “engineer” the outcome of an inquiry towards a preconceived end. This can be — and frequently is — done by taking shortcuts, and can result in contrary opinions not being heard. Consequently, the public is hoodwinked into believing that the contrived outcome was the result of a rigorous review process.

I write with two reports in mind — one Canadian, the other British. Both focussed on what we might broadly call “end-of-life issues”, and both concluded by recommending the legalisation of assisted suicide.

The Royal Society of Canada’s End-of-Life Decision Making report was released last November and concluded, among other things, with the following: “The evidence from years of experience and research where euthanasia and/or assisted suicide are permitted does not support claims that decriminalisation will result in vulnerable persons being subject to abuse or a slippery slope from voluntary to non-voluntary euthanasia.”

As one canny commentator quipped, “What! Don’t they know how to use Google?”

One well-known opponent of euthanasia is Professor Margaret Somerville, founding director of the Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law at Canada’s McGill University.

She was particularly scathing of the report, saying: “It is not ‘a careful, balanced review of various pros and cons of decriminalisation 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.” (Montreal Gazette, December 8, 2011).

Professor Somerville’s article deserves to be read in its entirety in order to gain a fuller understanding of the deficiencies of the report.

Two years ago, American lawyer and award-winning author Wesley J. Smith wrote an exposé, on his blog, on the backgrounds of the six Canadian panel members, including its unabashedly pro-euthanasia chairman (Second Hand Smoke, October 28, 2009). So much for the Royal Canadian Society’s aspirational statement: “… to 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 United Kingdom’s Commission on Assisted Dying. Its name alone suggests it has official government status. But, as Care Not Killing’s campaign director Dr Peter Saunders pointed 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.” (Care Not Killing, January 5, 2012).

Headed by long-time promoter of assisted suicide, Lord Falconer, the commission was not only sponsored by the assisted-suicide lobby group Dignity in Dying, but was jointly funded by pro-assisted-suicide filmmaker, Terry Pratchett.

Saunders has described how nine of the 11 members on the commission were known backers of assisted suicide with a “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”.

Filmmaker Pratchett himself protested that the report did not go far enough, which at least suggests that the part-funder didn’t get things all his own way (SkyNews, January 5, 2012).

However, British journalist George Pitcher quoted commissioner Joyce Robbins as revealing the real agenda. She reportedly said: “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.” (Daily Mail, UK, January 5, 2012).

Canada’s Alex Schadenberg, president of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition International, has observed that the Canadian and British reports appear to have been designed to prove a hypothesis, with any evidence that might lead to another conclusion simply being ignored.

And we should remember that these were not inquiries instigated by a parliament to explore an issue under debate. Whenever and wherever such inquiries have been conducted, they’ve found against legalising assisted suicide and euthanasia on public safety grounds.

No doubt, euthanasia and assisted-suicide advocates rejoiced at the release of the two private reports. However, to persist in quoting from them would be foolhardy given the public pummelling they’ve received 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.”

Paul Russell is director of the national network, HOPE: Preventing Euthanasia & Assisted Suicide and vice-chairman of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition International.



RSC Expert Panel, End-of-Life Decision Making (Ottawa: Royal Society of Canada), November 2011.

Margaret Somerville, “Assisted-suicide panel failed to present balanced arguments”, The Gazette (Montreal), December 8, 2011.

Wesley J. Smith, “Stacking the deck for euthanasia in Canadian ‘end of life’ commission”, Secondhand Smoke, October 28, 2009.

Commission on Assisted Dying (UK).

“Falconer report on euthanasia ‘biased and flawed’, says Care Not Killing”, Care Not Killing, January 5, 2012.

“Assisted dying report ‘doesn’t go far enough’, says Sir Terry, who funded study”, SkyNews, January 5, 2012.

George Pitcher, “Lord Falconer's bogus report on ‘assisted dying’ should fool nobody”, Daily Mail (UK), January 5, 2012.

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