Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Demos's Report – not worth the paper it is printed on...

When Demos decided to provide accommodation and servicing to the Falconer ‘Commission’ on Assisted Dying, the Reverend George Pitcher, then the Daily Telegraph Religious Editor, wrote:
“Demos and its newly appointed Director, Kitty Ussher (a former MP) should be ashamed of themselves. Demos established over a decade a fine reputation for non-partisan analysis and discourse. That it has been co-opted by this shallow attempt to suggest that Falconer’s ‘Commission’ somehow bears the integrity of the House of Lords is not only shameful, but cheap and rather nasty.”
However, even more “cheap and nasty is the latest Demos effort – a Report entitled The Truth About Suicide. It sets out to present itself as an academic exercise to unearth evidence to help in the development of strategies for “suicide prevention”. In fact, it early shows itself to be what most commonsensical people would describe as a “nudge, nudge, wink, wink document, part of a concerted campaign to try to make British society believe that euthanasia/suicide is here and should be recognised as a  legitimate option.

Demos does not of course dirty its fingers by using terms such as “legitimate options” – but the first two sentences of its Conclusions tell us almost everything we need to know:
“This report has presented new evidence, collected from coroners and primary care trusts (PCTs), that at least 10 per cent of suicides that take place in England involve people with either a chronic or terminal illness. It is likely that this figure may be a significant underestimate, as we also found anecdotal evidence that some coroners currently choose not to include relevant health information within their inquest records, which are frequently the main input to PCTs’ suicide audits.”
When I first received the The Truth About Suicide I e-mailed it directly to a close personal friend, Alison Davis, and her carer, Colin Harte. Alison has spina bifida and is wheelchair-bound as well as being doubly incontinent. In fact, she is just the kind of person who the euthanasia lobby likes to present as wanting nothing more than death. Alison knows from personal experience how people will presume that because she has so many disabilities she would prefer to do without treatment. In fact, Alison is a great pro-life fighter and is national co-ordinator of  “No Less Human”, a national group of people with disabilities and their families and carers. When Alison and Colin read the document he e-mailed me to say that all one needs to read is the opening paragraph of the Conclusions which I have quoted above. As soon as I read the words I knew that we could expect every euthanasia lobby group to use exactly the same sentiments to open their press releases echoing their support for the Demos Report.

Indeed, just  as we could all have predicted, on the very day of publication of the Demos Report, Dignity in Dying (DiD) issued a press release – showing they had received the Report  well in advance of we lesser mortals who received it on the day of publication. The DiD press release had the heading: “One Suicide A Day Due to Chronic Illness”. What more could they want, I ask you, particularly as it was DiD which set up the the Commission on Assisted Dying, Chaired by their dear friend, Lord Falconer, and housed by Demos! The DiD press release continued:
“At least 10 per cent of suicides in Britain are linked to terminal or chronic illness and account for over 400 deaths each year... A study published by Demos reveals that in many cases people decided to end their own lives due to physical rather than mental illness. The report, The Truth About Suicide, also found that some people are killing themselves at ‘a younger age in order to avoid severe symptoms and greater pain in later life’... The report found that in 4,390 suicide cases last year, 10 per cent concerned people ‘experiencing some form of serious physical illness as an influencing factor’.
The significance of the claims is that they have formed the basis of the persistent DiD campaign over the last few years seeking to justify changes to the laws on euthanasia and assisted suicide. However, Parliament has done its homework and has persistently rejected – by a substantial majority – all attempts to change the law. They recognise how dangerous it would be for the disabled, the elderly and the fragile – quite apart from turning doctors into killers rather than curers.

It is, of course, not surprising that some people who are very ill will commit suicide – particularly when they have just learned of the illness, as the Demos Report admits. Given time, they come to terms with the situation and the majority change their minds. But before then, they are at their most vulnerable and at the greatest danger of being open to pressure or manipulation. Moreover, there is no telling whether those who committed suicide had done so because of their illness, because they were depressed, because they had been abandoned at their time of need, or for any number of other possible reasons.

Earlier this year, when combatting the campaign waged by BBC personnel using programmes to promote the legalisation of euthanasia, SCOPE – the leading disability rights charity representing people with cerebral palsy – carried out a survey among disabled people to obtain their reactions to the euthanasia campaign. The SCOPE poll found that 70% of disabled people were concerned that a Reform of the law on assisted suicide would create pressure on vulnerable patients to “end their lives prematurely”. They also found that 3% of the 500 disabled people questioned in the ComRes Poll feared that they would personally come under pressure to commit suicide if the law were changed. Richard Hawkes, Chief Executive of SCOPE said:
“… while high profile lawyers, doctors and celebrities such as Terry Pratchett and Patrick Stewart grab the headlines, the views of the thousands of ordinary disabled people, who could be affected by this issue are rarely listened to.”
It is interesting that when the BBC carried a series of programmes promoting euthanasia for patients with Motor Neurone Disease (MND), I telephoned a programme research team to ask would they be interested in interviewing Pam Vack an RTL member suffering from MND. The researcher immediately snapped at me: “Is she a Catholic?“ It so happens that Pam is not a Catholic.  In any case, I asked what had her religion to do with it, adding: “Aren’t Catholics permitted to express an opinion on BBC.” I was adamant about leaving Pam’s details (including contact numbers), but neither she nor RTL heard anything more. We all need to remember that “ordinary disabled people are rarely listened to” because they are rarely given the opportunity to be listened to by the BBC and other media outlets following their example. SCOPE however is not the only group of major importance to disagree with Demos on the credibility of the Falconer Commission on Assisted Dying.

Virtually every disability human rights group in the country is opposed to the legalisation of euthanasia: they recognise the dangers, and they have checked and know what has happened in Holland, Oregon and other countries and areas where euthanasia is legal. All have refused to give any credibility to the Commission by submitting evidence (in comparison with Demos which not surprisingly is submitting its report, The Truth About Suicide). In addition, the BMA and almost every professional medical body have refused to submit evidence to the Commission on the grounds that it completely lacked any balance. In June, the BMA annual conference passed a Motion with a substantial majority condemning the Commission as biased. The Motion supported the decision of the BMA Ethics Committee in refusing to give evidence to the Commission as did a number of other medical organisations.  However, Britain’s major euthanasia lobby organisation, the BBC, failed to cover the BMA Motion on any radio or television programme – despite the previous very extensive coverage it had given supporting Lord Falconer’s much discredited Commission. It seems pretty pathetic that the Commission has been reduced to seeking credibility by obtaining a Report from the group housing them, Demos.

It must be noted that a number of professional bodies – including the World Health Organisation (WHO) – have persistently called on the media to take particular care in the manner in which they depict suicide. Preventing Suicide, A Resource for Media Professionals, the WHO guidelines (published in 2000) warned that people who may be disturbed, depressed or vulnerable can be influenced into taking their lives by the way in which suicide is portrayed in the media. The Report states:
Suicide is perhaps the most tragic way of ending one’s life. The majority of people who consider suicide are ambivalent. They are not sure that they want to die. One of the many factors that may lead a vulnerable individual to suicide could be publicity about suicides in the media. How the media report on suicide cases can influence other suicides.
In its programmes, the BBC has breached every rule put forward by the World Health Organisation. WHO guidelines warn against publicising suicide stories where celebrities are involved, explaining the methods used, showing pictures of the dead, and the scene of the suicide, as well as presenting suicide as a simplistic and acceptable act. In particular, the guidelines refer to the way in which television can influence suicidal behaviour and refer to a study showing an increase in suicides up to 10 days after coverage of suicides in news programmes.For years RTL, with many MPs (led by Jim Dobbin and, in previous parliaments, by the “two Anns” – Widdecombe and Winterton), have been fighting the BBC pro-euthanasia bias – and at last we seem to have made some headway in the fact that BBC did not give the Demos Report the publicity they could have expected only a short time ago. Moreover, where the BBC goes – others automatically follow and it is interesting that in this case, we have not seen (or heard) any coverage gained by the press releases from either Demos or DiD in any other media outlet or newspaper. The only actual publicity I have seen was an article in the Guardian by Louise Bazalgette, the leading researcher and author of the Demos report.

Having failed to gain any credibility through the professional medical bodies, the Commission and DiD have also been reduced to having to rely upon individual friends in the medical and associated professions. The latest “expert” to hit the headlines was Mr Martin Green, a dementia expert for the Department of Health,  who claimed that patients “who were too frail to take their own lives were being denied ‘choice’ and ‘autonomy’ because assisted suicide is illegal in the UK.” It will be no surprise to anybody to learn that Mr Green was one of the individuals who have already given evidence to Lord Falconer’s Commission. In an interview arranged with Tim Ross, Social Affairs Editor of the Daily Telegraph (28 Aug 2011), Mr Green urged ministers to review the law and suggested that a referendum or a free vote in Parliament should be called to settle policy on the issue. Mr Green, the chief executive of the English Community Care Association, which represents nursing and care home groups, is one of the government’s three national dementia “champions” and has been advising them since 2009.

DEMOS have claimed throughout, that their Report aimed to help in the development of strategies for “suicide prevention”. Yet, remarkably, nowhere in the document do they so much as hint at seeking to find whether there was or not any increase of suicides following a television programme on the subject. Heaven knows, the BBC has given them ample opportunities. This to my mind, makes the DEMOS Report pretty vacuous, hardly worth the bother of reading.

In calling for ministers to review the law and suggesting a free vote in Parliament Mr Green had the gall to totally ignore the history of events in Parliament – which typifies the whole tactic of DiD and people like Lord Falconer who persistently carry on their campaign pretending that the issue has not been settled. Although Mr Green is perfectly entitled to his pro-assisted suicide views, as a Government adviser he is surely not entitled to ignore parliamentary debate and decisions in promoting his own publicity-seeking agenda. In a memorandum, Lord Alton of Liverpool (David Alton) reminds us that in his statements Mr Green:
“... ignores two House of Lords Select Committee Inquiries into assisted dying, along with two free votes: presumably because they reached a conclusion with which he disagrees. On the last occasion, the inquiry covered some 246 Hansard columns and two volumes of 744 pages and 116 pages respectively, 15 oral sessions, 48 groups or individuals giving evidence, with 88 witnesses giving written evidence, 2,460 questions asked and the committee receiving 14,000 letters. After consideration of all the issues raised, as on the previous occasion, proposals to change the law were rejected by a wide margin. When the last vote took place in the House of Commons on a free vote the proposal was defeated by 91 votes to 236. In November last year the Scottish Parliament reached the same conclusion defeating Margo Macdonald’s attempt to legalise assisted suicide by a huge majority 85 to 16 votes.
Lord Alton has been joined by Lord Carlile of Berriew in challenging the Spokesperson for Health in the Lords as to whether “Mr Green’s view represents the Government’s position and whether there are any Departmental advisors who reflect Parliament’s view – one which is shared by the BMA, the hospice movement, disability rights groups and most of the Royal Colleges.” They asked: Perhaps you would be good enough to let us know who they are and whether they will also be issuing statements to the media.”

Personally speaking, I think that Mr Green should be removed from his office as a Government adviser. As I said earlier, he is perfectly entitled to his personal opinions on all issues. In totally ignoring parliament to gain publicity, however, he has very blatantly abused his position. Moreover, as “a very caring person” concerned for people’s rights, he has to my mind a frightening idea of “care”. In the Daily Telegraph, he admits it would be impossible to police any law no matter how carefully drafted to prevent abuses – the very thing that disabled people are most frightened of. He says:
“… even with safeguards that seek to ensure patients remain genuinely committed to their decisions, it would be impossible to eliminate the danger of abuse entirely… It might be a small minority but you will never ever be able to eliminate risk and you should never pretend you can”.
In the Netherlands in 2005, 500 patients (0.4% of all deaths) were given a lethal injection without request (End‐of‐Life Practices in the Netherlands Under the Euthanasia ActAgnes van der Heide et al, New England Journal of Medicine 356, pgs. 1957, 1961 Table 1 [2007]).

However, don’t be led away imagining that the Demos Report and Mr Green’s published thoughts on the ‘right to die’ is the last we will hear from the euthanasia lobby before the publication of the Report from Lord Falconer and his Commission. That, I understand, will not be until nearing the end of the year. Before then, you can bet your shirt on publicly staged suicides and statements from individuals calling for “freedom of choice” being well-publicised at regular intervals. You can also bet your shirt on the euthanasia lobby stories ignoring the evidence, and behaving as though most of us were complete idiots who cannot see through their tactics.

So, its up to you to make sure that your MP and any other parliamentarians with whom you are in touch, or other friends are made aware of what they are up to. You can also ensure that they are given the facts and receive at least one copy of the Right To Life leaflet Facts on Euthanasia that “Dignity in Dying” Will Not Disclose To YouThe leaflets can be obtained from Right To Life, PO Box 26264, London W3 9WF. Telephone 020 8992 7657. E-mail: info@righttolife.org.uk