Today a report by Lord Carlile QC and Baroness Finlay of Llandaff ('Parliament needs evidence, not soundbites or spin') addresses a series of statements made in a memorandum circulated recently to Members of Parliament by the pressure group Dignity in Dying.
Those who are campaigning for a law to license doctors to supply lethal drugs to terminally ill people to help them commit suicide naturally wish to make their case to Parliament. That is fair and good as a contribution to the debate.
However, the case put forward appears to consist of a series of unsupported statements and selective references. Reasoned analysis or explanation is conspicuous by its absence. We are told, for example, that “evidence from Oregon demonstrates that the safeguards in place work well”, but there is no explanation of how those safeguards actually work. We are told that research has found “no evidence of heightened risk” from Oregon’s law to vulnerable groups. The research in question has been challenged as methodologically flawed, yet no reference is made to this. We are told that “evidence demonstrates” that 0.5 per cent of deaths in the UK result from voluntary or involuntary euthanasia by doctors. No explanation is given, however, of the basis on which this' evidence' rests or of what the research in question actually concluded – namely, that the incidence of such illegal action by doctors in Britain is “very low indeed”.
The debate about whether the law should be changed is a complex and often emotive one. If it is to be informative and constructive, it needs to be based on hard evidence and reasoned analysis.