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Launch of the Commission on Assisted Dying

Lord (Ian) Blair of Boughton, Revd Canon Dr James Woodward, Dr Stephen Duckworth and Professor Sam Ahmedzai are among members of the Commission on Assisted Dying, announced in a speech by Lord Falconer, the commission’s chair, in London this morning.

The Commission on Assisted Dying will review evidence from experts and the public and consider what system, if any, should exist to allow people to be assisted to die and whether any changes in the law should be introduced. The commission will publish a final report by December 2011.

Though assisted dying is illegal in the UK, it is possible for people to have assistance to end their lives by travelling abroad or with non-medical assistance from a friend or family member without anyone being prosecuted.  This occurred in cases such as the 23 year-old rugby player Daniel James and that of Michael Bateman who was not charged for assisting his wife’s death in October 2009.

To date, over 150 Britons have travelled abroad to die and no one has been prosecuted for accompanying or assisting them.  Current legal practise differentiates between amateur assistance to die by loved ones – which is likely, but not certain, to be forgiven by the criminal justice system – and assistance by healthcare professionals which is likely to result in prosecutions.  The Commission on Assisted dying will seek clarity on current legal ambiguities.


Lord Falconer said in a speech this morning:

“The purpose of the commission is to hear evidence, consider all the relevant material and then to write and report, addressing the issue of whether there needs to be a change of approach to the issue of assisted dying, and making recommendations as to what, if any, changes of the law and practice should be implemented."

“We approach the task, each one of the commissioners, determined to come up with a report of quality which will be respected as an objective, dispassionate and authoritative analysis of the issues and as providing a reliable way forward.  The issue is one of great ethical and practical importance.”

The members of the Commission on Assisted Dying are:

Lord Charles Falconer, Chair

Barrister and Senior Counsel based in Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher’s London office. Former Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice in the Blair government.

Professor Sam Ahmedzai

Professor of Palliative Medicine and head of the Academic Unit of Supportive Care at the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, University of Sheffield.

Lord (Ian) Blair of Boughton

Crossbench Peer and former Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.

Sir Graeme Catto

Chairman of the Scottish Stem Cell Network, Chairman of the Better Regulation Group, Universities UK, and former President of the General Medical Council.

Dr Carole Dacombe

Medical Director, St Peter’s Hospice.

Dr Stephen Duckworth

Founder and Chief Executive of Disability Matters Limited and board member of the Olympic Delivery Authority.

Celia Grandison-Markey

 Nurse and Education and Management Consultant for health and social care in the Public Sector.

Penny Mordaunt MP

Conservative Member of Parliament for Portsmouth North.

Baroness Elaine Murphy of Aldgate

Independent (crossbench) life peer, Secretary to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Mental Health and a vice-president of the Alzheimer’s Society.

Dame Denise Platt DBE

Member of the Committee on Standards in Public Life.

The Reverend Canon Dr James Woodward

Anglican priest and Canon of St George’s Chapel, Windsor.

Baroness Barbara Young of Old Scone

Life Peer in the House of Lords and Chancellor of Cranfield University.


Lord (Ian) Blair said:

“I look forward to working with my fellow Commissioners in examining thoroughly and dispassionately one of the great moral and humanitarian issues of our time. The legal and ethical questions surrounding assisting the already terminally ill or those with catastrophic injuries to choose the manner and timing of their deaths make the investigation of such deaths very difficult for the police and the families involved but the issues go far wider and have implications for all of us and the kind of society we wish to create.”

Lord Falconer added:

“The issue needs calm and measured work to look at the facts about how people die, about how people presently do die, about how decisions regarding the very end of live are currently made in the UK, about experience in other countries, about public opinion, about what the effect of leaving the law as it is, and the likely effect of changing it, would be.”

The Commission on Assisted Dying is issuing a public call for evidence and will publish all evidence submitted on the commission’s website:

Amongst those invited to present to the commission in the first rounds of evidence are:

Baroness Ilora Finlay

Professor of Palliative Care and Co-Chair of Living and Dying Well.

Lord Joel Joffe

Proposer of the private members bill, 'Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill'.

Baroness Mary Warnock

Moral Philosopher and author of Easeful Death: Is there a case for assisted suicide dying?

Dr Peter Saunders

Care not Killing

Archbishop Rowan Williams

Alison Davis

Disabled rights campaigner and coordinator of No Less Human

Professor Clive Seale

Professor of Medical Sociology, Queen Mary, University of London

Debby Purdy

Assisted suicide campaigner

George Pitcher

Anglican priest and writer

Keir Starmer QC

Director of Public Prosecutions

Dr Patrick Stone

Macmillan Reader in Palliative Medicine, St George’s University of London

The independent commission is hosted by the think tank Demos, which will provide support as the secretariat.

Kitty Ussher, Director of Demos said:

“The UK cannot ignore the need for legal clarity around the issue of assisted dying.  Demos is delighted to host an expert inquiry on an issue that desperately needs an independent review.”

Notes to Editors:

The Commission on Assisted Dying is an independent commission that will reach conclusions based upon the evidence brought before it.

The commission is collecting evidence in a range of forms and is undertaking outreach to make sure that hard to reach groups are included in the inquiry. Evidence to the commission can be submitted via the website, in the form of text, film and audio files, as well as through sending evidence to:

William Bradley, Secretariat
Commission on Assisted Dying, c/o Demos, Third Floor, 136 Tooley Street, London SE1 2TU

For further information on submitting evidence please contact:

All evidence will be published on the Commission on Assisted Dying’s website.  Individuals and organisations may be invited to present their evidence in further detail before the commission.

The commission has been set up with funding provided by Bernard Lewis and Terry Pratchett and on their behalf Dignity in Dying has made the arrangements for its formation. Demos will act as Secretariat and provide administrative and research support. 

The commission is to act entirely independently and the commission alone will be responsible for its conclusions, which will be formed based on the evidence received. In particular, the commission will be independent from Bernard Lewis, Terry Pratchett, Demos and Dignity in Dying.

Commissioners have been selected from a wide range of expertise and experience and will reach their conclusion based on the evidence brought before the commission. They join the commission in a personal capacity and are not representatives of any professional affiliations they may have.

Media enquiries

Beatrice Karol Burks, Head of Press, Demos

020 7367 6325

079 2947 4938




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