Body parts row, suicide bombers and others

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Body parts row hinders NHS care for us all

Sir: Thank you, Deborah Orr ("What's the point of hurting the health service?", 20 January). You have made me realise that I am not alone in thinking the way I do. Every time this body parts business comes up I despair.

When my daughter died some years ago I was asked if I would consent to a post-mortem. In agreeing to this I put my trust in those doctors to take whichever parts of my daughter's body, before burial, they thought fit for research to find out more about her condition and the cause of her death. I hoped the knowledge gained would help other children. I did not need or want to know the details.

Because the death of a child is so painfully pointless I have always had a hope that a piece of my child has in some way, or will in the future, help in the understanding, treatment or prevention of her condition and therefore benefit others. I do not believe that the parents in the Nationwide Organ Retention Group realise the nature of medical research. Collections of organs, tissue and blood samples are, in effect, huge data banks that may yield their secrets decades later.

What good is there in demanding compensation for what was in fact a desire by the medical profession to prevent the suffering of children in the future? By pursuing this claim millions of pounds will be paid out in lawyers' fees and compensation and will be lost to future research and the care of children.

The Royal College of Pathologists has given a public apology for any distress caused and the Human Tissue Bill has passed its second stage in Parliament. No doubt in future every newly bereaved parent will be informed in minute detail the location and size of the tissue required for retention. Even though Alder Hey was different, compensation should not have been paid and it must certainly not set a precedent. Every parent I have seen interviewed has said that the money was not an issue. If they must take the £1,000 then why not give it to the charity most associated with their child, as a memorial to him or her? This act of altruism will dissolve their anger and let them get on with their lives. It will also let me get on with mine and let the NHS get on with caring for us all.


Understanding for suicide bombers

Sir: Jenny Tonge has misunderstood the nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

She claims that Palestinians are committing suicide "out of desperation", when Palestinian suicide attacks became a daily occurrence beginning way back in 1995 - a time of unprecedented hope and confidence in the Oslo peace process, and while economic prosperity in the Palestinian territories had reached an all-time high.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad's rejection of Israel's very right to live created the strategy of suicide bombing. These attacks were precisely timed to undermine the hope of a stable peace and prevent any agreement being implemented between Israel and the newly founded Palestinian Authority.

It is Hamas and Islamic Jihad, not the Israeli government, that is ultimately to blame for the dire economic situation of the Palestinian people today. All effort must be made by Europe to prevent further EU funding from reaching these extreme terrorist organisations that attempt to dictate the political playing field via brainwashed Palestinian youth. All Ms Tonge has managed to achieve by her comments is to raise the credibility of these groups and further undermine any prospects for a genuine peace.

London N3

Sir: I am appalled that Jenny Tonge's comment should evoke such an infantile response.

To disagree with Dr Tonge is to imply that there is something "other" about Palestinians and it is not their experience that makes them desperate enough to consider suicide bombing. The only alternative is to attribute it to something else: the Palestinian character. This is nothing more than racism.

If I were a Palestinian I would consider being a suicide bomber. It would be one option open to me. Dr Tonge's statement is almost a tautology. Just as surely as if I were a British MP I would consider joining a "chorus of condemnation".

The difficult thing to understand is why she needed to say it.

Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire

Sir: Whilst I would not condone the murder of Jenny Tonge MP, I understand why people out there might want to kill her.

London NW3

Sir: Michael Ancram is quite right to condemn Jenny Tonge for saying she "understands" Palestinian suicide bombers. If all our politicians went round understanding things, politics as we know it would collapse completely.

Sandy, Bedfordshire

Cannabis battles

Sir: Actually, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown is quite wrong ("Stop dreaming: Cannabis is not a harmless drug", 19 January) to suggest that the way to solve the health problems caused by drug taking is to continue the futile moral battle against the laws of supply and demand. On the contrary, if health education is the objective, it is, in fact, best served by legalising drugs.

The illegality of drugs is a major obstacle in the way of establishing the medical facts. Once drugs are legalised, realistic and convincing medical research can then get under way. That would lead to a comprehensive education programme - one imagines along the lines of tobacco health warnings. Consumers would then be free to buy a packet of Afghani in the local Sainsbury's with doubtless inspiring spiritual visions on one side of the packet, but with "Dope Kills" and other undesirable side effects on the other.

This common-sense approach, directed at personal responsibility and behaviour, has been phenomenally successful at reducing tobacco consumption in Britain and America. Alcohol and drugs await a similar fate.

Altrincham, Cheshire

Sir: Of course, being "stoned from 10 o'clock" is not going to help anyone achieve. Nor would being drunk from 10 o'clock. Cannabis is not going to help our country a great deal. Nor would legalising it cripple it.

Mrs Alibhai-Brown would know if she'd tried it a few more times that it can be great fun. It will be impossible to prevent from becoming normalised, in the same way that alcohol was impossible to prevent by "prohibition".

People saw sense, and had it made available so that it could be enjoyed, controlled, tax-profits could be made, and no more resources would be wasted on criminalising businessmen and rogues alike. Of course, alcohol abuse is a problem in society, but I for one think its advantages outweigh the disadvantages. The same can be said of controlled cannabis use. There are dangers in abuse. Let everyone know it. There are more dangers in secrecy, illegal manufacturing, criminalising normal behaviours. Let everyone know that. Let people decide for themselves.

London W12

Sir: Like Ian Flintoff (letter, 20 January) I did not partake of cannabis when at university, not because of priggishness, but through the horrifying example of a girl who must have been suffering from what is now known as cannabis psychosis.

To Aran Lewis (letters, 20 January) I would like to point out that hashish may be the etymological origin not only of the Maltese for vegetable, but also for assassin. Traditionally it has been acknowledged that cannabis can have a variable effect. Cannabis may be notorious for inducing lethargy, but in some users it can result in psychosis and lasting brain damage.

There is a very worrying conflation of statistics: most young people in prison are there because of mental illness or drugs; most young people who are mentally ill will smoke cannabis as a form of self-medication and the official psychiatric view has only lately seen the connection. Perhaps the decriminalisation of drugs could help the problem to be seen as a medical and social one. Certainly for many the fact that an action is against the law makes it more, not less, attractive.


Bricks of memory

Sir: May I make a minor correction to Colin Small's letter (22 January)? The toy referred to in his final paragraph was in fact "Bayko", produced by the Plimpton Engineering Company in Liverpool under patent number 422645. I still have a reasonable quantity of the bricks, rods and floorplates, and a (very tattered) instruction manual.

As was popular at the time with toys such as Meccano, Bayko was sold in a number of "sets" (0 to 4), with "conversion" sets (0X to 3X) available to move up from one set to the next - ideal for Christmas or birthday presents, as I remember.

Another building toy way back in my memory, but to which I have seen no reference for years, was "Lotts bricks". These were made of stone, painted to resemble bricks, windows and - as I recall - simulated half-timbering. The bricks were simply placed one on top of another, topped off with a folded cardboard roof. There was no way of joining the bricks together, so that when someone knocked against the table the whole construction was likely to collapse!

The last of the building toys which I remember from my childhood consisted of simulated bricks each about 20mm x 10m x 4mm. These were actually cemented together with a flour-and-water paste. Once a model was finished with, it was soaked in a basin of water to dissolve the paste and release the bricks for further play. I cannot remember the name - I am sure one of your other readers will be able to help.

Blagdon, North Somerset

Sir: Colin Murison Small''s description of the "Bayko" toy building set is most accurate. It was indeed inflexible, with its panelled construction and standard windows and doors, all topped off with a pre-formed roof. But its concept has more than survived the years. There is a development around the corner from me using exactly those techniques and assembling (I deliberately choose not to use the word "building") full-scale "houses" in only a little longer than it used to take me to put the Bayko toy equivalent together in the 1950s.

Kidderminster, Worcestershire

Saddam's victims

Sir: Chris Middleton's argument that the 10,000 Iraqis killed by the Anglo-American invaders can be set against 30,000 who would have died had Iraq not been invaded (Letters, 21 January) is bad even on its own morally dubious terms.

He arrives at his figure of 30,000 by wrongly assuming that Saddam was killing his "own" people at a constant rate. In fact he killed the bulk of his victims during his war with Iran and after the failure of his invasion of Kuwait. Chris Middleton's bogus argument doesn't take account of the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, particularly children, who were victims of the cruel UN sanctions regime.

Perhaps he should factor in the numbers who might have been killed had Saddam used his non-existent weapons of mass destruction!

London SW18

Room for more

Sir: Many graves are untended (report, 16 January). A few years ago I took an interest in finding the graves of my relatives, and many cemeteries were pleased that a relative should take over ownership of a grave in return for keeping it in good repair. Some graves were full, but there's plenty of room in most. Being interred with a great-grandparent can help to keep that grave "alive" and visited for a generation or two.

Newcastle under Lyme, Staffordshire

Jailed drivers

Sir: You report "More drivers than burglars jailed" (22 January). About 10 persons are killed on Britain's roads every day. Over 31 million people have driving licences. Barely 15,000 drivers were jailed last year. Fewer than one in 2,000 motorists was sent to jail. Three times in the past 20 years my house has been burgled. The loss and distress were somewhat ameliorated by my insurance. If I or my family had been knocked down by an uninsured driver, the injury would have been more painful, the recompense nil.

London N13

True accounts

Sir: As an accountant, I ought to object to the suggestion that an accounting error caused British Vita to be less profitable (Business, 21 January). Accounts are only a measurement of performance. The lower profits were already there, caused by other factors, and the accounting error merely prevented the true position from being known about when it should have been.


GM herbicide

Sir: Contrary to what Joan Ruddock stated (letter, 22 January), the herbicide regime used in genetically modified herbicide tolerant maize does not involve atrazine. Furthermore, the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment recommended that a condition be placed on the future consent for GMHT maize to ensure that herbicide management be limited solely to the chemical that is used in practice, glufosinate ammonium, applied at a maximum rate limited to that maximum employed in the Farm Scale Evaluations.

Professor JOE N PERRY
Plant and Invertebrate Ecology Division, Rothamsted Research,
Harpenden, Hertfordshire

Missing weapons

Sir: If the student Samantha Marson faces jail for making a false declaration regarding non-existent bombs, where does that place our esteemed leader and his pal President Bush?

Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire