Former Lord Chancellor misrepresents British Medical Association’s position on assisted suicide to the Times newspaper

By Dr. Peter Saunders

Editor’s note. Dr. Saunders is a former general surgeon and CEO of Christian Medical Fellowship, a UK-based organization with 4,500 UK doctors and 1,000 medical students as members. 

Lord Falconer

The Times today carries an article promoting Lord Falconer’s new assisted suicide bill which profoundly misrepresents the British Medical Association’s position on assisted suicide.

The Times initially adopted a campaigning stance in support of legalising assisted suicide with an editorial titled ‘Life and Death’ at the time of Falconer’s unsuccessful amendment to the Coroners and Justice Bill back in 2009.

Last year it devoted two whole pages  and an editorial to the pro-assisted suicide cause just as Dignity in Dying (formerly the Voluntary Euthanasia Society) was launching a propaganda barrage on parliament with the mailing of a new booklet to all MPs and Peers.

This was in the lead up to the publication of the report from Lord Falconer’s sham commission on assisted suicide on 5 January this year which, not surprisingly on the basis of the committee’s composition (nine of its twelve members were outspoken enthusiasts for decriminalisation), recommended ‘legalisation with safeguards’.

In fact the Times in recent years has almost trumped the BBC in the hunt for the media assisted suicide cheerleader award.

But it appears now that its staff are so avidly championing Falconer’s cause that they don’t even bother to check whether what he tells them is actually true.

Today’s article contains the following claim:

‘Lord Falconer, who will introduce the Bill after the consultation, said that… the position of the British Medical Association was now neutral rather than opposed’

Now anyone who has been following the debate and reading the news (which surely must include Lord Falconer!) knows very well that the British Medical Association is strongly opposed to the legalisation of both euthanasia and assisted suicide and actually rejected a motion aimed to push it neutral, engineered by Lord Falconer’s colleagues in ‘Healthcare Professionals for Assisted Dying’ (HPAD), at its annual representative meeting just last week (See BMA report at http://bma.org.uk/news-views-analysis/news/2012/june/bma-sticks-with-opposition-to-legalising-assisted-dying).

So we asked the author of the article, Frances Gibb, the Times Legal Editor, what was actually going on. She apologised for the error and told us that she had ‘trusted Lord Falconer to know what he was talking about’.

But perhaps she shouldn’t have. After all it is not the first time that the former Lord Chancellor has misrepresented the truth about assisted suicide to the Times. In December 2010 he actually misrepresented the existing law!.

Rather worrying given that he is the former Lord Chancellor. Was he just being sloppy? Or was he deliberately attempting to mislead? I wonder.

No doubt the BMA itself will soon be pointing out the ‘error’.

Editor’s note. This appeared on Dr. Saunders’ blog.