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Thursday 29 October 2009
Letters: Ante-natal testing
Why some women shun ante-natal testing
Professor Joan Morris (report, 27 October) believes more research is needed into why women refuse screening for Down's and other birth defects. One consequence of the increase in maternal age is a higher incidence of such problems, but another must surely be that the number of older women becoming pregnant after medical intervention is also increasing.
As someone who had successful fertility treatment 15 years ago, the conversation that remains with me is that with the nurse at my 12-week scan. Because of my age, she offered me a blood test which would indicate whether or not I should have amniocentesis. My husband and I had already decided that, having spent four years trying to achieve a pregnancy, we would "take what we got" and not submit to any antenatal testing. The nurse was scandalised and told me I "had" to have the blood test.
Fortunately, my consultant took a different view and that was the end of the discussion. My perfectly healthy daughter was born seven weeks prematurely because of a weakness in the amniotic sac. Thank goodness I hadn't agreed to the insertion of a large needle into my abdomen to test for a condition which statistically, even given my age, she was unlikely to have.
Perhaps the 30 per cent of women refusing such tests feel as I did: the desire to have one's own child, even if there is an accompanying risk of disability, is greater than the perceived disadvantages it might bring. Maybe would-be mothers are less put off by disability than the medics who treat us?
Lebanon's role in refugee crisis
In the piece "No way home: the tragedy of the Palestinian diaspora" (22 October), Judith Miller and David Samuels correctly state that the Middle East is a difficult place for Palestinian refugees. But the underlying assumption that better treatment by the Arab host countries would have resolved the problem for Israel is false.
The most ardent Palestinian campaigners for the right of return and justice for the refugees are those living in places such as Brooklyn and Toronto; those who enjoy the benefit of being free from the economic and political problems of the refugees in host countries. If anything, suffering under squalid conditions creates shorter-term priorities.
For Lebanon, the influx of the equivalent of 10 per cent of its population of angry and dispossessed refugees was not without its problems. My old friend Sir Anthony Parsons compared it to the whole population of Ireland moving to England and living in refugee camps around major cities such as London and Manchester, and being managed by the IRA. The Lebanese and the Palestinians have paid a high price as victims of Israeli action.
The good news is that in Lebanon we have overcome this legacy. Since 2005, I have headed a unit in the Lebanese government with the task of mending Lebanese-Palestinian relations. There is a lot to do and it will not be easy; the objective is to provide the refugees with their right to live in dignity and prosperity until they achieve their aspiration for a right of return to their homes. But this improvement in the conditions of the refugees will only strengthen their resolve for their political rights, not decrease them.
Ambassador Khalil Makkawi
President of the Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue Committee, Beirut
Private firms can't match Royal Mail
We are a small internet retail company and our success is in no small part thanks to the Royal Mail. The prime delivery service that enables small companies such as ours to grow is Royal Mail. If this service is further undermined and damaged by government interference, management ineptitude, and CWU recalcitrance, we and many others will close.
Private carriers do not offer the same service or cost-effective pricing. For example, an item that costs £1.69 by Royal Mail recorded delivery costs £8.75 by DHL and requires cumbersome form-filling. No private carriers offer a universally priced nationwide service, and none offer nationwide convenient and secure depots through which to process packages.
The unions are "irrevocably damaging" the reputation of the Royal Mail and threatening the future of small businesses, Lord Mandelson says.
Yet it is not the unions which are damaging the reputation of the Royal Mail, but the Royal Mail management, aided and abetted by the government and even the Tories, who would dearly love to sell it off to the private sector.
Since 2007, the Royal Mail workforce has lost thousands of jobs, and those remaining are now being asked to do the extra work to cover these losses along with taking a wage freeze, under ever-looming threat of redundancy.
Yet the management have been paying themselves millions in bonuses for making these cuts to our service.
This so-called "modernisation" is not improving the service; it is making it worse, severely affecting small businesses like my own, that rely on the mail arriving at a reasonable time each day.
Michael W Cook
The government's attitude to the Post Office is reminiscent of the Tory government under Margaret Thatcher, inasmuch as they had a war (Falklands) and crushed a union (NUM). The government seems hell-bent on privatising the Post Office, which is not what the country wants.
Public services such as rail and postal delivery are not supposed to make a profit; they are part of the infrastructure that any country needs to operate properly.
The Post Office is doomed as long as Adam Crozier is in place. What is needed is someone who has worked their way up and understands that the Post Office is a public service, and not an asset-stripping opportunity.
Parties must reveal tuition-fee plans
Your leading article, "More reason for raising tuition fees" (20 October) lacks reasons for raising tuition fees. It mentions Professor John Holman's legitimate concerns that without increased funding our universities will struggle to maintain their global reputation for excellence, a fear shared by most in higher education. But it does not give any reasons why students should foot the bill for increased higher-education costs.
The most salient point you make is that the public deserves to know the stance of the political parties on university fees before they head to the ballot box.
You are being generous in suggesting that party infighting has delayed the fees review. A more cynical observer might suggest there is a cosy collusion between the main parties to avoid spelling out their policy on increasing tuition fees. That is unacceptable. Voters have the right to know what priorities the parties have when it comes to education funding.
General Secretary, The University and College Union, London NW1
You report (20 October) "Cap on university fees 'threatens UK science'". It is vital that this country continues to produce world-class scientific research.
Unfortunately, many of the brightest science graduates go to work in banking where the financial rewards are so much greater. We need the brightest minds not only to do science degrees but to work as scientists after graduating; increasing tuition fees will only discourage this.
Dr Richard Palmer
Blair would be a disaster in EU job
For many people around the world, Tony Blair has blood on his hands; Mark Steel (28 October) is right that he is the wrong person for the post of European President. If Blair does "stop traffic" as David Miliband claims, it is because his entourage meets Muslim protests wherever he goes. Europe needs a clean President with no Bush neo-con baggage.
Nor will Europeans forget Donald Rumsfeld's crude caricature of the EU as "New Europe", countries such as Britain and Spain that supported the war in Iraq, and "Old Europe", countries such as France and Germany that wisely did not swallow the propaganda about WMD.
Given recent moves to designate oil prices in a basket of currencies to cushion against the dollar's weakness, the EU President must come from a Eurozone country. Iraq, and Blair's lukewarm attitude to the Euro and the Schengen trade zone agreement, make him a seriously unsuitable candidate.
The best candidates for the European Presidency are Felipe Gonzalez and Mary Robinson. Both are experienced and well-informed Europeans. The first struggled to combat Franco when the dictator was still alive, and did more than anyone to lead Spain into European democracy. Mary Robinson is simply one of the most inspiring women in international politics in the modern world, and she, too, presided over her own country's brilliant and successful integration into the EU.
Pope's welcome to Anglicans
I listened to an Anglo-Catholic priest on the radio doing his best to explain Pope Benedict XVI's position on celibacy, and getting hopelessly tied in knots. Maybe the Pope's reason for his invitation to disaffected Anglicans is the chronic shortage of Catholic priests in this country, the average age being over 70, with very few ordinands. By welcoming married clergy into his Church, the Pope will, in time, have good grounds for allowing his own priests to marry.
But defectors should be aware that by going to Rome it may be a case of out of the frying pan into the fire, because it will soon be necessary for the Roman Church to give more responsibility to women for the same reasons that the Anglican Church has: a shortage of suitable men.
South Cadbury, Somerset
Gill leaves bad taste
"Recreational primate killer" A A Gill's boast of shooting and killing a baboon (report, 26 October) put me in mind of his put-down of Gordon Ramsay. If I may paraphrase, "Gill is a wonderful writer; just a really second-rate human being".
A De Meur
Nationalism is dead
In the old days, we had only one nasty party, the Thatcherites. Now we have three: the Tories who want to go back to yesterday; UKIP who want to go back to the day before yesterday; and the BNP who want to go back 60 years. However nostalgic I might be about the past (I am 73), I know we must live in the present and look to the future. If we want a future, it must be as an integral part of Europe. Nationalism is a dead end.
Tydd St Giles, Cambridgeshire
Contrary to Professor Frank Fahy's claim (letters, 28 October), undergraduate students benefit greatly from being taught by researchers. Research-oriented scholars, who are actively engaged in the pursuit of new knowledge, are necessarily familiar with the latest literature. Their motivation extends beyond instruction: typically, they wish to excite interest in their work, and this involves inspiring the curiosity of their own students.
The reasons in favour of a woman's right to choose a Caesarian set out in your leading article of 28 October do seem reasonable, but what about the cost to the already cash-strapped NHS? The NHS imposes limits on treatments in other areas based on cost, so why not in obstetrics as well?
In your report on the 2011 Census (26 October), I note that "The question about a person's marital status has expanded from four possibilities (married, separated, divorced, or widowed) to eight". Perhaps I will no longer have to be illicitly unmarried.
Shocked by your report (28 October) that the UK is slipping down the world gender-quality league table, I note that only 18 per cent (three out of 17) of the letters in the same edition were from women. Is this compelling evidence of sexism in your choice of whose letters to publish or is it, as my wife always tells me, that women have better things to do than write to newspapers?
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