Letters: Assisted dying - two cases, no answers

These letters appear in the January 5 edition of The Independent

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The death of Debbie Purdy (obituary, 31 December) has once again highlighted the tragic situation of people whose experience of life is so awful that they want it to end. Whatever we do leaves us with a feeling of loss; it is not as simple as a decision between right and wrong.

I have been involved twice in decisions like this. I was “buddy” to a friend dying of Aids whose situation was desperate. He felt horribly ill, had become little more than a skeleton and did not have the strength even to feed himself. He wanted to die and asked me to help. I had to say no, not because of the fear of legal proceedings but because, as a priest, I just did not feel able to do so.

The next day I went to his flat to see him and, as I expected, to call the doctor and undertaker. He had not died, though drugs he had taken had made his situation even worse. I found him on the floor. An ambulance was called and he lingered another week in hospital.

The second time concerned my mother. At 87 she was suffering from osteoporosis and was in great pain in hospital. She felt her life had run its course. The doctor suggested that she have morphine but warned that by so doing her life could be shortened. She and I agreed, and my mother died four days later without regaining consciousness.

In neither case was I left feeling I had done the right thing. Was I letting unimportant concerns about principles prevent the compassion my friend so desperately needed? Was I putting my own conscience before his need? Above all should I have talked of the Christian hope of resurrection and prepared him for his death? And with my mother, did she really hope that I would say no, and prove to her that I still cared and wanted her to stay alive?

There are no answers to these questions, and after thirty years in the case of my friend, and twenty in the case of my mother, I am still left with feelings of guilt.

Neil Dawson
London SE27


How refreshing it is that a medical expert has for once advised us on what to die of, rather than what not to die of (“Cancer is ‘best death’, so don’t try to cure it, says doctor”, 1 January). Whenever I am threatened by the health police or government that I shall die of this, that or the other unless I change my lifestyle, I want to respond: “What do you want me to die of, then?”

As it happens, I don’t want to die of cancer, but would rather die in my sleep, while still (in all other respects) in good health and of a sound mind. Can the experts advise me on how to change my lifestyle so as to make this the most likely outcome?

George Macdonald Ross


We can welcome more refugees

Your editorial of 3 January rightly identifies the solution to the refugee crisis in the Middle East as a long-term political settlement. This, however, will be years ahead, and in the meantime, as you say, “hundreds of thousands of refugees have to subsist in the quiet squalor of border camps with inadequate shelter, food and water”.

I understand that our government has done more than most with regard to financial support, and has match-funded charitable contributions. It has, however, provided shelter here in the UK for only about 100 refugees. Surely our common humanity should dictate that this country offers shelter to more refugees, proportionate to our position in the family of nations. I am sure that with the assistance of charities, local authorities and volunteers, temporary accommodation and support could be found for more of these poor people.

The leaders of our political parties and churches should be at the forefront of demands for this country to shoulder its fair share of the refugee burden; instead we are met with a deafening silence.

Geoff Webber
Harrogate, North Yorkshire


The plight of more than 1,000 refugees abandoned in the Mediterranean sea on board the merchant ships Blue Sky M and Ezadeen is regrettably the tip of an enormous human tragedy that will continue to unfold for decades.

Regardless of the measures taken by governments to control EU immigration, I would suggest that a bigger, longer-term threat to Europe lies in developing countries. With an estimated 220 million women having no access to contraception, is it any wonder that the world’s population, having tripled since 1950, continues to grow by 240,000 a day?

Until this problem is comprehensively addressed the relentless growth of the world’s population will continue to be the driving force behind the mass immigration, as millions seek to escape a life of grinding poverty. Who would do otherwise?

Mike Wheeler
Gosport, Hampshire


Now to settle the West Lothian Question

The wiseacres have been busy with their New Year prophecies. However, one important question still remains to be answered: will 2015 be the year when Britain finally resolves its crisis of governance?

Ever since Tam Dalyell raised his West Lothian question we have been waiting for a workable answer. It must be full-blown federalism. By giving Wales and Scotland assemblies, Tony Blair, for understandable reasons, created a hybrid arrangement in place of the unitary constitution we had previously. We now need to finish the job. “English votes for English laws” would just be a stop-gap solution which  would lead to further complications.

Three things would seem to be needed: first, the creation of that till now elusive English parliament; second, a properly federal assembly on the lines of the American Congress or the German Bundestag; and last but certainly not least, a new, written constitution  to apportion to the different parliaments their appropriate roles and ensure even treatment of their respective electorates (which of course does not at present obtain). Clearly also the opportunity should be taken to address undemocratic anomalies such as the House of Lords.

The May election is unlikely in itself to solve our political discontents. Indeed it is likely merely to exacerbate them.

Andrew McLuskey
Staines, Surrey


The government’s proposals for “English votes for English laws” fall far short of what is needed to address the political crisis facing the UK as a result of greater devolution to Scotland and the disintegration of the two-party system. The way forward is to decide what should be devolved to Scotland and then to ensure that all regions of the UK have the same powers.

Any parliament should not be elected on the first-past-the-post system as this disenfranchises a large (and increasing) number of people. The way forward is to establish regional assemblies in England and for all devolved administrations to be represented in a Senate which would replace the House of Lords. Regional representation in a Senate should mean that future budgets have to adopt policies that reflect the economic diversity of the UK as a whole, not just London and the South.

The only way to resolve these issues is through a Constitutional Convention, as Labour proposes, but it must be wide-ranging and not focused on making the current system work. Perhaps a starting point would be to look at the German constitution. It seems to work for them.

Andrew Baker
Harrow, Middlesex


What Tracey Emin’s art tells us

Richard Charnley haughtily informs us (letter, 3 January) that great art tells you something about yourself and that Tracey Emin’s art fails this test as it only tells us about her. I think this is silly.

Emin is certainly part of a long artistic tradition in giving a personal response to the artist’s own experience.

It is not true that great art necessarily tells you something about yourself. Most people would consider Michelangelo’s David to be great art, and I do too, but apart from the trivial recognition that my own body suffers by comparison to David’s, I don’t really see that it tells me anything about myself. 

The truth is that art can be great for all sorts of different reasons and in many different ways.

Jonathan Wallace
Newcastle upon Tyne


British Jews and Israel

John Dorken (letter, 27 December) is correct insofar as he attributes some anti-Semitism here to hostility to Israel’s Gaza actions. However his conclusion is outrageous:  “Surely then the solution lies in leaders of the Jewish community in Britain taking a more considered and independent line on Israel’s action.” In other words, if they don’t, they’ve asked for it.

Graham Everett
Watford, Hertfordshire


Benjamin Netanyahu is quite indignant about the Palestinians wanting to join the International Criminal Court, saying that it is the Palestinians who should fear war crimes prosecutions (report, 1 January). So you would expect him to encourage them to join. It’s interesting to consider why he doesn’t.

Fabian Acker
London SE22