Disability not a fate worse than death, Handover in Iraq and others

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Victims of the myth that disability is a fate worse than death

Victims of the myth that disability is a fate worse than death

Sir: Shame on us indeed that the Stokes had to go to Switzerland to die ("Couple who died in Swiss suicide clinic 'not terminally ill' ", 23 June).

Shame on us that they had to go into a care home because their health was deteriorating. Shame on us that such a devoted couple thought they would have to be cared for separately and therefore could no longer stay together. Shame on us that their mental health was not looked after better so that depression was unmanageable and suicide longed for. Shame on our health and social services for not caring better for them and for Mr Byre (letter, 28 June). But most of all shame on our society and all those able-bodied members of it who continually spread the rumour that being ill or disabled is a fate worse than death.

I have been disabled since birth and now have a second disability that is progressively robbing me of what physical abilities I did have. Yet I love life. I have managed to find different ways of doing things and press-ganged into use every bit of technology I could lay my hands on. But above all I have learnt, relearnt and learnt again that my physical abilities, or lack of them, don't determine the sort of person I am or my value. I can think, love and care about the people around me. I can create pictures, essays, stories, dances, films, pieces for theatre. And when I can't actually do these myself I can tell other people how to do them for me.

Life is valuable I don't want to lose it. I want to make the most of every little bit I've got.

Aston Clinton, Buckinghamshire

Handover in Iraq: who are the real cynics?

Sir: I strongly object to Michael Ignatieff's labelling the millions of people who "take failure in Iraq for granted" as "modish cynics". Those millions stood together in disapproval of an illegal and unethical pre-emptive strike against Iraq based on pretexts that have turned out to be blatant lies.

Ignatieff claims he supported the war on human rights grounds. In that case, I would like to know his proposed agenda for pre-emptive strikes against Sudan, Zimbabwe, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and China. I would suggest that the only modish cynic here is Mr Ignatieff.

London N6

Sir: What an extraordinarily negative, destructive and cynical article on the front page today by Robert Fisk ("The handover", 29 June).

Obviously there are major questions about the involvement of the USA and Britain in Iraq and the lack of planning for the aftermath of the war. However it would now seem that there are more positive steps being taken, particularly in respect of handing control back and greater involvement of the international community.

Part of this process surely has to be that of taking sensible precautions to minimise opportunities for extremist actions, particularly those aimed at achieving maximum publicity. Therefore it was entirely sensible to bring forward the date of transition and to keep it as secret as possible.

Huddersfield, West Yorkshire

Sir: Those responsible for the invasion of Iraq now try to pin the blame on the intelligence services, as if the only intelligence they received pointed to the existence of Saddam's WMD and the need for war. In fact there was just as much - and more credible - evidence arguing the opposite. It is available in countless reports, articles, TV programmes and letters to editors published before the invasion all over the world.

It is simply not true that "the whole world were convinced that WMD were there" (P Janes, letters, 25 June). Several governments, many weapons inspectors, a number of US and UK diplomats, and the millions who demonstrated against the war in many countries were totally unconvinced. Blair did not lie only in the technical sense that he chose to believe the doubtful intelligence that suited his purposes.

Hove, East Sussex

Sir: Can I thank Ian Flintoff (letter, 22 June) for his chilling but eye-opening exposition of the standpoint of at least some opponents of the war in Iraq? So "at least the horrors of Saddam Hussein were perpetrated against ... political enemies". In other words, those who oppose a brutal dictator have only themselves to blame if they die for it, even in their hundreds of thousands. And the deaths of a relatively small number of innocent bystanders can never be justified, even if it brings the whole vicious process to a halt.

I'm sure oppressors yet unborn owe a debt of gratitude to those who seriously believe that this is the moral high ground.

Alfold, Surrey

Sir: Your issue of 30 June contains the headlines "Labour membership falls to 'lowest level for 70 years' " and "Bush's popularity falls to all-time low ... ". The link? With both economies relatively buoyant the answer must be the catastrophe of Iraq.

Stoneleigh, Surrey

Against abortion

Sir: Johann Hari makes two fundamental straw-man mistakes about Pro-Life opposition to abortion in "Pictures, foetuses and a misconceived debate" (Opinion, 30 June).

First, many Christians oppose abortion not because of any "mystical notion of the soul", or even because of the so-called sacredness of life, but because they believe, simply, that human life is not ours to take. They are not "wittering" about some ethereal substance but making a statement about the sovereignty of God.

Nor, secondly, are they all dogmatic about foetuses being persons; indeed they may accept that it is uncertain when human personhood begins. But they do think that it is ethically perilous to justify abortion by defining marginal cases in such a way as to exclude them from human concern and obligation. That, after all, was the strategy behind the lawyer's self-justifying question "Who is my neighbour?", which category Jesus expanded, not contracted, with his parable of the Good Samaritan.

Finally, this. On Johann Hari's own definition and admission 3,000 abortions a year (those performed after 18 weeks) amount to "unethical killings" of sentient human beings, a "small number" he reassures us. Nevertheless, he concedes, even these killings must stop in order that women may continue to rid themselves of "insentient clumps of flesh", his term for pre-18 week foetuses, but a term that even a woman miscarrying after a few weeks would never think of using about the life in her womb. The moral crassness of the argument is breathtaking.


Film archive on ice

Sir: The arguments of Amanda Nevill, of the British Film Institute (bfi), about the National Film and Television Archive would find little resonance among staff at its centre in Berkhamsted (letters, 29 June). For them the past year has not been "consumed with carefully assessing" plans for the future (otherwise known as "the review"). What they have seen is a "consultation" in which the management had already decided its strategy - downsizing - before the review began. The review heard the views of some staff working groups, and ignored what it didn't like. Other groups met once, but had not even reported before the bfi issued its draft plan.

"Stabilisation" plans amount to sticking the collection in a fridge. There are no tangible plans to check and catalogue its contents. The "investment in the staff" referred to by Ms Nevill is in fact a cut of some 20 to 30 jobs at the archive. Proposed future operations cannot be conducted with the present cohort, let alone that proposed by the bfi. The people whom the bfi would dispatch to the job centre possess skills which, once lost, cannot be simply replaced by someone off the street. Meanwhile, a mini-army of curators is to decide what is kept and what is ditched - according to their own subjective criteria.

BECTU is now negotiating redundancies at the archive - because the bfi, as part of the UK Film Council, insists on it. The British people have a deep pride in, and love for, their film and television heritage. We believe that, purely to cut costs, the bfi and UK Film Council are placing that heritage at risk. Isn't it time that, for once, the people on the ground were listened to?

Broadcasting, Entertainment, Cinematograph and Theatre Union
London SW9

Opposites attract

Sir: Yasmin Alibhai-Brown posed the perennial question in her column of 28 June ("I was sleeping with the enemy") - can mixed-race marriages work?

Despite some high-profile mixed-race relationship "failures", it is possible for people from vastly different backgrounds to come together as one in a happy union. I have been married for seven successful years to a lady of Nigerian origin. Yet I am a punk rocker who loves nothing better than parading around in leather jacket and tartan bondage pants. My wife, on the other hand, is a stalwart at her local church.

Our superficial differences notwithstanding we are very similar when it comes to opinions on the important things in life: family, discipline, children. The key to success, in my opinion, is to keep your own interests whilst "allowing" your partner to develop his/her own. That way your relationship stays fresh.

Sadly the media generally illustrates the negatives of such unions rather than emphasising the positives. I would always advise anyone to give mixed-race relationships a chance - the truth is more rewarding than the stereotype would suggest.

Waltham Cross, Hertfordshire

Try them or free them

Sir: Ron Dare ("Blunkett knows best", Letters, 25 June) seems to have forgotten that in this country an individual is innocent until proven guilty.

The men in Belmarsh have not been charged with anything and are there on little more than a spiteful whim. If there is any evidence against these men of their complicity or association with terrorists then let them be tried and convicted; otherwise let them be set free to go where they choose. As they haven't been charged with anything they might be guilty, but by Blunkett's logic they can be set free if they agree to leave this country. In other words Blunkett would be quite happy to free a group of suspected terrorists as long as they operated elsewhere.

Faversham, Kent

Throwaway pets

Sir: I would urge anyone thinking of buying an "exotic pet" ("Snakes alive!", 29 June) to read the recent RSPCA report Handle with Care, a devastating catalogue of the suffering endured by these creatures caused by ignorance and neglect.

I take issue with the assertion of Chris Newman, of the Federation of British Herpetologists, that "the attraction of reptiles is the fact that they are so easy to look after. They are perfect for people with busy lives...". Sadly, more often than not "exotic pets" are impulse buys. They require a very high standard of husbandry, but a recent poll revealed that potential purchasers are often given woefully inadequate advice. The inevitable high death rates and low replacement costs thus create a never-ending market.

These creatures were never meant to be kept in captivity, but sadly they have become the throwaway pets of the 21st century.


Linguistic chaos

Sir: At the slightest whiff of something going wrong, newspapers reach for the word "chaos". Your use of the word in the news item about the London Tube strike was wholly inappropriate ("Tube strike chaos for 3 million commuters", 30 June). Chaos implies uncertainty, panic, surprise, yet the Tube strike has been known about for weeks. People failing to get to work or using other means of transport is not chaotic.


Railway security

Sir: Following the Madrid train bombing in March, all large items of luggage at important Spanish railway stations, such as Barcelona, have to pass through security equipment similar to that found at airports. I wonder if the Prime Minister, whose support for Bush's illegal war against Iraq has made Britain an obvious terrorist target, could tell us when similar equipment will be installed at major railway stations here? It would probably cost somewhat less than the war and its aftermath and, rather than causing death, could actually save lives.


Gender divide

Sir: " 'The Saône is masculine and the Rhône is feminine,' someone said." ("PsychoGeography", 26 June). Wrong - la Saône is feminine and le Rhône is masculine. And just for the record, it's la Seine, la Garonne, la Loire, la Marne, la Meuse, la Moselle, la Meurthe, la Charente, but le Cher (into which I once fell), le Tarn, le Lot (t pronounced) and le Gers (silent s). Needless to say, I am an expert on the gender of French rivers.

Keighley, West Yorkshire

Collective responsibility

Sir: It's when "the Government are ... announcing its policy" that I worry whether they're plural or singular (letter, 29 June). Radio 4 newsreaders certainly don't know.

Mold, Flintshire

Take no notice

Sir: The sign referring to "Sheep worrying" indicates that stress may be taking its toll on the outwardly contended ovines of Hampshire (letters, 22 June). Perhaps they should move to Kent where, it is claimed, "Goats keep to marked paths".

London SE3