Assisted dying, nuclear weapons and others

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The Independent Online

People should be allowed to decide the time of their death

Sir: Our society appears to accept that the individual has a duty to live, no matter how wretched his or her life is, no matter how little chance there is that things will ever improve and, above all, no matter whether that individual wants to go on living or not ("Couple who died in Swiss suicide clinic 'not terminally ill' ", 23 June).

The Stokes were a devoted couple, with such poor physical health that they had to live in a care home. They both had a long history of psychiatric illness, and had made several thwarted attempt at suicide. Each dreaded outliving the other.

Shame on us and our laws that they had to travel to another country to find compassionate medical help to have a gentle death in each other's arms.


Sir: Your editorial "The right to refuse treatment" (19 June) is right to say that it is now time to reform the laws on assisted dying and suicide. There are many terminally ill patients who not only feel deprived of their rights at the end of their lives, when doctors take control of decisions, but also feel denied the chance to discuss this openly. It cannot be right to potentially criminalise even the discussion of death when dying is such a frightening subject. This uncertainty is leading more people to make journeys abroad to die, and undermines further a criminal law that is left either impotent or harsh and inflexible.

(Warwick and Leamington, Lab)
House of Commons

Sir: I am 96 years old and have suffered for many years from shortage of breath and other difficulties, and consequently I have "existed" not "lived", sitting in a chair most of the time.

I am now in a care home. The staff are most kind but this does not overcome the urge to do things, and as a result there have been one or two falls (fortunately incurring no damage except pain). I have prayed for years to be relieved from all this but present laws do not allow it. Given a controlled opportunity I, like many others, would have taken it. An "existence" like this benefits no one.

I realise that there must be strong overseeing and any loosening of the regulations has to be carefully looked into but, with an increasingly elderly population, surely it is time for the law to be changed.


Nuclear proliferation would be disastrous

Sir: Mary Dejevsky's diagnosis that the nuclear non-proliferation regime is obsolete and needs to be replaced with a regime that allows the sharing of nuclear weapon technology is profoundly erroneous ("Every country could use a nuclear deterrent", 24 June).

Ms Dejevsky is proposing that countries that show they can "keep the rules" should be permitted to deploy nuclear weapons. But how on earth can we guarantee that they will abide by the rules? It is good that India and Pakistan are working to establish a stable deterrent relationship. But can we be confident that in a time of crisis each side would not be tempted to pre-empt the other and attempt a disarming first strike? And what about regime change? If a radical Islamic government came to power in Pakistan how stable would the situation be then?

The largest obstacle to states and terrorists developing nuclear weapons is getting their hands on suitable nuclear material. Allowing a proliferation of such material throughout the world, as Ms Dejevsky suggests, would massively increase the chances of some very nasty individuals acquiring the capability to wipe out millions of people.

Rather than jettison the existing non-proliferation regime, we need to modernise and strengthen it. We have to influence potential proliferants' decisions by making nuclear weapon acquisition a much more costly exercise and reward abstinence more generously. To an extent this approach is now being applied towards Iran.

By the same token, if we demand nuclear weapon abstinence from others we must at the very least assure these states that they will not be subjected to any form of nuclear coercion by nuclear possessors. That is why US plans to afford greater military utility to their nuclear weapons are counter-productive to the achievement of a more secure world.

Senior Adviser, Saferworld
London N1

Sir: Many of your readers will have been appalled by Mary Dejevsky's column. Its message involves back-sliding, with the aim of creating a world of state rivalries maintained in a precarious balance by the threat of mutual destruction, instead of the culture of peace and mutual understanding that most nations seek. It ignores the 1996 ruling of the International Court of Justice that the threat or use of nuclear weapons is contrary to international law. It rests on the dubious assumption that coincidence between the acquisition of nuclear weapons by two adjacent countries is causally responsible for a reduction, possibly temporary, in mutual hostilities. It neglects the fact that the acquisition of nuclear weapons by one country, such as North Korea, may greatly increase the danger of international war.

But one must agree with Ms Dejevsky that the countries in the "nuclear club" have indeed behaved condescendingly to others in requiring them to abide by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, while disregarding their "unequivocal undertaking" to eliminate their own.

India and Pakistan broke no undertakings, for they were not signatories to the treaty. But nuclear weapons remain the most dangerous devices ever invented by mankind, and there is an ever-present danger of their misuse not only by countries, but also by dissident groups and terrorists.

The only reasonable course forward is for the nuclear powers to abide by their international treaty undertakings and set an example to the rest of the world by advancing rapidly towards total nuclear disarmament. In particular, the UK should take a lead by decommissioning its Trident submarines.

Chairman, British Pugwash Group
St John's College, Cambridge

Wind farm lunacy

Sir: Kuno van der Post's letter (22 June) demonstrates some naivety about the role that wind farms will play in UK electricity generation. The implication is that somehow if we build lots of wind farms, "the massive, ugly, polluting" power stations will just go away.

They will not. Not a single power station will be switched off, and indeed we will need to build more polluting gas or coal-fired stations as nuclear power is phased out and wind is phased in. Electricity supply must meet demand exactly, every second of the day. Unfortunately, wind energy is so unpredictable that all those polluting furnaces must be kept burning, ready at a moment's notice to produce electricity as the wind drops. When there is plenty of wind of course the furnaces produce nothing but heat and carbon dioxide.

Is this not lunacy? Massive wind turbines have blighted the lives of many ordinary people in rural mid-Wales and the North Pennines, with the people of rural Scotland soon to follow - these people are neither privileged nor self-centred, they are just victims of an ill conceived and costly energy policy that amounts to little more than "green" tokenism.

University of Sheffield

Sir: It is generous of Kuno van der Post to offer Oxford as the site of a wind farm so that the dreaming spires may nestle among the turbines; but, as he well knows, his offer will not be taken up.

Instead it is the peat lands of north Lewis, a Special Area of Conservation, where the neighbouring population is small and demand for electricity low, that is threatened with 200-300 turbines 450ft high with concrete platforms and access roads.

It is proposed to destroy a landscape unique in the British Isles, a place rich in wildlife, simply in order to meet an arbitrary target for reducing an increase in the discharge of greenhouse gases - an increase caused by schemes, such as the expansion of Heathrow airport, that should not be happening in the first place.

London SW11

McDonald's diet

Sir: Andrew Gumbel's article "The man who ate McDonald's" (19 June) is not very well researched if he thinks I have corporate backing for making a film of my own McDonald's diet. Corporate sponsorship? In my dreams. My phone is going to be shut off this week if I don't deal with a very large bill; same with the electric and my car payment is due the first of July. I haven't gotten a paycheck for six months and I'm starting to run out of a partial divorce settlement (thank goodness the food at McDonald's is reasonably priced).

Fortunately I have been training pigeons for the Birmingham Royal Ballet and their July appearance at Lincoln Center, NYC. This is the first paying job since December I've been able to start and complete and that was because I was under contract before the McDonald's project which has prevented me from taking other work. That job will cover a few bills but I'm seriously in the red financially.

Nevertheless I feel so strongly about this issue of personal choice that a bit of financial hardship is a small sacrifice to make.

Kensington, New Hampshire, USA

Guantanamo trials

Sir: The puny protest by Lord Goldsmith about the conditions in Guantanamo Bay is both overdue and insufficient ("Attorney General hits out on Guantanamo", 26 June).

Ever since we first learned about Camp Delta, it was obvious that its off-shore location and its open-air cages were designed for the purpose of extracting information from prisoners-of-war who would not be afforded that status by a regime that did not intend to be restricted by legal niceties in its "fight against terrorism". The sight on TV of prisoners being taken for interrogation, shackled and unable to walk unaided, and returning on stretchers only served to heighten one's disgust at this descent into inhumanity.

The fact that diplomatic representations for the return of British prisoners have been going on for at least a year and a half without success makes it clear that our "special relationship" with the USA is a figment of British imagination.

Moghull, Merseyside

Sir: It is certainly right that the Attorney General has drawn attention to the right of a fair trial for the detainees in Guantanamo Bay. Regardless of the Prime Minister's subsequent request for the repatriation of the British detainees, presumably to stand trial in the UK, the principle of a fair trial must be applied to all detainees and not just those few who happen to be nationals of favoured states.

Nonetheless, it does seem ironic that the UK government is now seeking fair trials for US detainees when there are detainees in UK jails with no prospect of a trial, fair or otherwise.

Poole, Dorset

Football champions

Sir: It's not about winning, it's the taking part that counts! The English team in Euro 2004 demonstrated skill, passion and determination, supporting each other and setting a fine example to all. They played four thrilling games and restored my respect for the professional footballer, all too often badly behaved, over hyped and over paid.

If football is about entertainment, then England are champions of the tournament. We should be very proud of the team's behaviour when losing in such an unfortunate manner.

I wish the host nation the best of luck in the semi-finals.


Sir: You have an admirable record for fearless reporting and dealing with issues in an honest way. Why then did you devote your whole front page on 25 June to "Heartbreak in Lisbon" about a game of football? Surely the bereaved of the 85 killed in Iraq and the 15-year-old murdered for his mobile are the ones suffering real heartbreak.

Hampton, Surrey

Sir: More than nine pages of coverage of England's defeat in Saturday's edition. What would you have done if they had actually won?


Shipping water

Sir: Regarding examples of insane globalisation (letters, 24, 25, and 26 June), Harrogate spa water, in smart little bottles, is to be shipped to Australia, to grace the tables of exclusive restaurants. The local Harrogate Advertiser newspaper proclaimed this as a great marketing coup for the newly established water company.

Harrogate, North Yorkshire

Plural verbs

Sir: Within the space of about 20 minutes I heard on Radio 4 this morning "intimidation, violence and fraud continues", "choice and competition is", "red tape and bureaucracy is preventing", "common sense and pragmatism has prevailed" and "it is one of the few countries in the world which allows". Is the plural verb becoming obsolete? My wife and my daughter and I is very worried.

Cranleigh, Surrey

Take no notice

Sir: I have yet to read a more encouraging notice than that on the back door of a van belonging to a company specialising in cooked meats - "experts in pies"; unless it be the one that used to hang in an old-fashioned haberdashery, alas long gone, which read "we can procure at short notice".

Hempstead, Essex


Sir: The football team have lost, the rugby team have been overwhelmed, cricket has been stopped for rain and so has tennis. In the English Riviera it's been a cold, wet weekend. Isn't a return to normality a comfort?

Teignmouth, South Devon