Letters: Abortion and Down's syndrome

Abortion decisions and people with Down's syndrome
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The Independent Online

Sir: Once again Dominic Lawson has come to the defence of those who have Down's syndrome (Opinion, 23 May) .

It seems now to be a recurring theme emerging from some sections of the medical establishment that those who are born with Down's syndrome are really not wanted and are a drain on the public purse; much better that they should never have been born in the first place.

Such attitudes are based mainly on the myth that people with Down's syndrome can never have a proper quality of life. People with Down's syndrome are entirely capable of having what we would understand to be a good quality of life, defined by achieving satisfactory personal goals, making a wide range of friends, holding down a job contributing to the well-being of others and by and large making some sense of the environment that surrounds them.

My own daughter, who is 13, attends her local mainstream secondary school, has danced at the Irish Dance World Championships, and is being coached at one of Liverpool's swimming clubs. We are proud of her achievements, as is she herself. And, yes, some of those achievements have been underpinned by support from the public purse, but isn't that a measure of a civilised and compassionate society?

People with Down's syndrome have come a long way since being regarded as ineducable mongols. It would however seem that influential sections of our medical establishment still regard them as such, and seek to influence the choice of prospective parents by presenting this as the reality. Thanks to Dominic Lawson for challenging those outdated views.



Academic life is more than money

Sir: I fully support the industrial action being taken by my university colleagues (Letters, 27 May). It is important that pay is commensurate with other professions and that universities are able to continue to recruit the best teachers and researchers.

However, pay is a minor issue when compared with what is happening to universities as a whole. As with every aspect of our society, life within the university is becoming increasingly commodified and ruled by market forces. We are encouraged not to think of our students as students, but as customers. The academic community of which students are part is being reduced to a form of monetary exchange in which my role as a lecturer is being changed to a technician whose function is to provide our customers with the information they require to cut and paste into the essays in order to receive the product they came to university to purchase.

Academics are increasingly asked to provide demand-led teaching, with any question as to what ought to be taught being seen as some anachronistic throwback to more elitist times, or some left-wing refusal to accept the truth that history has ended and our function is simply to fit our customers into the existing system in order that it may, with greater efficiency, be rolled out across the globe.

I can speak for numerous colleagues as well as students who thankfully still wish to study when I say that it is essential that universities remain a place where the question "What is the good society?" remains an open one, and that the interrogation and questioning of the world we live in remains our central obligation.

The failure to pay academics the wage they deserve is part of a wider contempt for intellectual life, and it is this broader concern that we need to consider as a matter of urgency.



Sir: The coverage of the university lecturers' dispute invariably fails to mention that there are large number of lecturers who are not taking part in the action, many of whom deplore it.

I am one such lecturer, and I feel the action to be misguided and potentially self-damaging. First, the unions have no understanding of why academic salaries have not kept pace with other sectors of the economy. There is only one mechanism that reliably ratchets up salaries in real terms, and that is competition between employers to recruit the employees they want.

Universities are a monopoly employer negotiating with monopoly unions, so there is no real wage competition between them. If the unions were serious about our salaries rising, they would insist that every academic could make his or her own bargain with the particular university, as happens in America, where academics are not unionised and salaries are 50 per cent higher.

Second, if we as a sector take a large pay increase, the tax-payer will demand a return for the money, and that return will come in the form of teaching more students with less favourable staff-student ratios. The quality of academics' lives is not limited by money (we are fairly well paid anyway and take many benefits in kind), but by how much time we have to do our own research and deal with higher-level students individually.

If we obtain the kind of pay rises envisaged by the unions, the greater student numbers we would have to absorb to pay for it would severely compromise these activities, thus leaving us a little richer but much worse off. The unions need to be challenged on the logic and consequences of their action.



The cost of 'green' plastic bottles

Sir: "Think about it - plastic made from corn. The potential for helping the planet is enormous," gushed Belu's spokesman ("The bottle that heralds a plastic revolution", 29 May).

Well, I thought about all the extra land needed, probably in South America, to grow all the extra crops. I thought about all the energy needed to produce the insecticides, herbicides and fertiliser required to sustain this monoculture year after year let alone ship it halfway round the world. I am also supposed to be impressed by the fact it will then all be chucked in a land-fill to release all that stored carbon dioxide as methane - in a matter of only 12 weeks we were assured.

I thought about how the big supermarkets will love this development. For them it means a simple change of supplier and they can go on encouraging us to ever greater consumption while proclaiming: "We are greener than our competition."

If we really wish to "help the planet" there is no alternative but to reverse the growth in consumption, and the chances of this happening are greatly reduced when you splash a company's marketing blurb across your front page simplistically giving the impression that the problem has been solved.



Charities will be the lottery winners

Sir: I found your article "Directors hit £10m jackpot on 'fairer' lottery" (11 May) misleading and potentially damaging to a company that ultimately exists to benefit its charity partners and to deliver a fairer lottery to the playing public.

The fact that Chariot is behind the Monday lottery has always been very clear to the charities, the Gambling Commission, the investors, everyone else in the media and finally players. We are in regular and open dialogue with each of our charity partners. Many have also met our investors.

No charity has been able to raise from society lotteries the level of funds we might raise for them. The investment needed to achieve this made it much too high a risk for them to consider. They understand that for this to work it needs to be run effectively as a commercial organisation. That it requires very high levels of investment. That it is Chariot (UK) plc and its investors that are taking all the risk.

They also appreciate that the investors and leadership staff needed for it to succeed are right to expect a fair return. All remuneration is performance-related - no bonus payments without delivering the target sales and therefore the funds to the charities. Any share options are not exercisable before February 2007 at the very earliest.

Our whole approach is geared to rewarding staff only when the charities have been guaranteed substantial sums. And the gains for the charities will always significantly outweigh those for Chariot.

If we succeed in creating a compelling lottery game that achieves its potential this will mean the delivery of up to £150m a year to these charities with no risk. If we don't then history will show that the only people to lose out were the staff that work here and the investors who put money in.



Support for cyclists from a pedestrian

Sir: Mark Redhead suggests (letter, 24 May) that Mark Cohen try spending a bit of time on a pavement or pedestrian crossing surrounded by seemingly brake-free cycles.

Speaking as someone who has been a pedestrian for half a century, I have no objection whatever to occasional pavement cycling and have every sympathy with cyclists. (I do however disapprove of cyclists going through red lights, a dangerous practice, most of all for the cyclist.) I object very much to being forced to walk in the road by cars parked thoughtlessly blocking the pavement, which is a growing practice and not only in residential streets. Cycles do not emit fumes or loud noise nor cause CO2 emissions, nor devour thousands of acres of land for parking space; and they keep their riders healthy so that NHS costs are lower.

I've never been hit by a cycle nor feared to be, whereas I have been hit by cars and frequently fear to be - there is no comparison in speed or weight. Compare the annual statistics of deaths and injuries caused by collision with cycles with those caused by cars.



Egyptian hospital cleaner than ours

Sir: You report on the "dirty hospital bug" (26 May). I was recently hospitalised in Egypt, when my legs were gouged open by the metal step on a horse and carriage. Hearing of the drama, friends commented that an Egyptian hospital must have been a terrible experience, but the Luxor International Hospital, on the contrary, was so clean I could have eaten off the floor.

The plastic surgery ward in St Thomas' Hospital, south London, where I recovered from skin grafts, on the other hand, was very poorly maintained by auxiliary staff. My bed table was washed twice in five days, and general cleaning consisted of a dirty mop being pushed around very slowly by a person who clearly had no interest or concern in doing a proper job. On one occasion, I received a crusted fork with which to eat my dinner.

I have no complaint about the nursing care but on the above count, I consider myself fortunate to have returned home free of infection. I am an Australian trained nurse.



Farmers fight for bumblebees

Sir: We share your concerns about the decline of the bumblebee and are disappointed that your feature and pictures (26 May) on their plight did not highlight some of the current farming industry initiatives to promote their return.

Through the Voluntary Initiative, we have worked closely with farmers to manage the environmental impact of pesticide use and promote best practice for biodiversity. The results have been very positive and we continue to promote flower-rich field margins which have been instrumental in increasing the number of birds and insects and biodiversity.

It is up to all of us to work together to promote biodiversity. Overlooking the substantial progress that is already being made will disappoint farmers around the country who have worked hard to enhance the environment by following best practice.



Sir: Ron Sonnett (letter, 27 May) has missed the point that there are bumblebees and bumblebees. The species that like the mixed floral provisions in a garden setting are among the least endangered. It is those that have more precise requirements that are in most trouble. No garden is going to help a Blaeberry Bumblebee unless it is half way up a mountain somewhere, so conservation projects other than eco-gardening are also very important.



Where was humanity?

Sir: Your report of the Pope's address at Auschwitz-Birkenau (" 'Where was God?' asks the Pope on Auschwitz visit", 29 May) raises the question of where, during the Nazi era, had man left his humanity, his morality, his conscience, and where his courage to oppose evil in his midst.



Tory Buddhism

Sir: Charles Nevin suggests that in future speeches David Cameron might choose to quote a piece of Buddhist wisdom (Third Leader, 23 May). I suspect he is already doing so. I was lucky enough to spend part of my honeymoon in Bhutan, an enchanting Buddhist country where the king, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, declared that he is much more interested in Gross Domestic Happiness than Gross Domestic Product.



Moral assassinations

Sir: Galloway: the devil is in the wording of the question. He was asked, and answered yes, to "Would the assassination of, say, Tony Blair by a suicide bomber - if there were no other casualties - be justified as revenge for the war on Iraq?" Indignation by the bucketful. But suppose the question had been "Should a leader be exempt from the dangers he orders young soldiers to face?" Even Stephen Pound would have had to say " no" to that.



Vanishing newts

Sir: Over the last four years the newts have disappeared from my fairly large garden pond (letter, 29 May). I used to see a dozen at any time, including magnificent great crested newts, and they coexisted happily with fish, but in the last twelve months I've only spotted three ordinary ones. Alas, the same disappearance applies to frogs and toads, but I do have resident grass snakes (which can swim).



Hutton auction

Sir: Is it not ironic that in an attempt to raise funds at a Labour event an alleged signature of the Prime Minister's wife needed to be added to the Hutton report to "sex it up" before putting it up for public auction?