Letters: Assisted suicide

Death wish denied led to the happiest years of my life
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The Independent Online

Your report on Lynn Gilderdale (27 January) worried me greatly. This is because however a law allowing assisted suicide is framed, and however many "safeguards" it has, it would not have saved me when I wanted to die. In fact, I think few people can understand Lynn's desperate and ongoing wish to die better than I can. And yet still I say the law should not allow actions such as hers, regardless of how disabled or determined is the one requesting it, and how "loving and compassionate" is the person asked to assist.

I use a wheelchair full-time, having spina bifida, hydrocephalus, emphysema, osteoporosis and arthritis. Like Lynn, I desperately wanted a child, and had to come to terms with the knowledge that I never would. I have severe pain every day, and, as with Lynn, morphine doesn't always alleviate it. I also have crushed and fractured vertebra, caused by my osteoporotic bones, which means additional pain. Typing this causes even more pain, due to arthritis in my fingers, wrists and elbows. But writing this letter is important, despite the pain.

Twenty-five years ago, I, like Lynn, decided I wanted to die, a settled and entirely competent death wish that lasted for 10 years. During those years I attempted suicide more than once. On the occasion I best remember, I was treated against my will by doctors, who saved my life. Then, I was very angry with the doctors who saved my life, but now I'm extremely grateful. Yet because of the requirements of the Mental Capacity Act, and the Director of Public Prosecutions' new guidelines, if similar circumstances obtained now, I would be left to die.

Had someone taken the apparently "common sense, decent and humane" decision to end my life all those years ago, no doubt a jury would also have given my "helper" a conditional discharge, if that.

But I would actually have missed the best years of my life, notwithstanding pain that is worse now than it was when I wanted to die. No one would ever have known that the future held something better for me, not in terms of physical ability, but in terms of support and the love of friends who refused to accept my view that my life was "over".

It's very easy to give up on a body as "broken" as Lynn's or mine, and it can be tough to continue. But it is possible to come out the other side of a death wish, to use well the time that would otherwise have been lost, and to demonstrate that life is precious and worth living, despite many serious challenges.

Alison Davis

Blandford Forum, Dorset

Could Blair face a war crime charge?

As a lawyer, I consider there is now possibly sufficient evidence to indict Mr Blair on a war crime charge (front page, 30 January). In his evidence to Chilcot, he appeared, at least implicitly, to concede that the evidence on WMD was substantially weaker than he had stated in the Commons in 2003. Equally, it is clear from his remarks and also from much of the other evidence, that he was determined to invade Iraq regardless of whether there was sufficient evidence of WMD which could threaten the security of this country.

But, unusually, there are no lawyers on the inquiry panel, however distinguished the members are in their own fields. I suggest that if the panel felt there may possibly be grounds for indicting Mr Blair on war crimes charges, because he breached international law in authorising an invasion of Iraq, they should recommend in their report to the Prime Minister (whoever he may be) that he should send the papers to a leading judge for consideration.

John Moses

Richmond, Surrey

So now we know: 9/11 was Blair's starting-point. To him, 9/11 and the Saddam regime were indistinguishable. To get at the perpetrators of the attack of 2001, Saddam had to be expelled, even though his regime was secular and quite unlike the Islamists who piloted the planes. Anyone with a basic knowledge of the realities of the Middle East could have told him this.

But no: to Blair "these people" were all the same. "This kind of threat" had to be met with war. Has there ever been a more blatant example of the orientalist incapacity to make distinctions?

Christopher Walker

London W14

Adrian Hamilton ("It was the war itself which was wrong", 29 January) misunderstands the primary motivation which drove Bush and Blair, an axis of extremism if ever there was one, to lay waste to Iraq. They staged a religious and ethnic war triggered initially, as Blair has said, by the attack in 2001 on two supreme symbols of the Christian West.

In their quest to retaliate against the Muslim Arab aggressor, they needed a soft and strategically unimportant target, and Iraq, led by a dispensable despot, fitted the bill perfectly. Regime change, his genocidal attacks on the Kurds and others, and the remote possibility that he might be holding or developing weapons of mass destruction were all chaff scattered to distract attention from their private crusade.

This explains why they were completely uninterested in what happened to Iraqis once their country had been blitzed. Why would you want to help the infidel when what he needed was to be punished?

Jeremy Walker

London WC1

When Blair says that "if it was up to him" (thank God it isn't) we should consider repeating the Iraq venture with Iran. After all that has happened in Iraq and Afghanistan, that he can seriously suggest such a thing is extraordinary. Does he have no idea of logistics?

One of the problems in Iraq and Afghanistan has been the lack of troops. Where does he think the troops are to come from to invade and occupy a much larger and powerful country such as Iran? Unless he is suggesting merely "surgical strikes", in which case he wants to be very sure they are not going to be counter-productive.

What I find most insufferable is the incredibly arrogant assumption that the Anglo-Saxon world has a monopoly of righteousness and good government and that gives them the right to police and mould the world in their image. When all else fails, the only people with the right to take military action are the UN, whatever their faults.

Peter Giles

Whitchurch, Shropshire

Mr Blair believes Iran must be stopped at all costs from developing nuclear weapons. But again, like his failure to anticipate the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq, he has failed to consider what could occur after an air campaign against the Iranian nuclear facilities. It is doubtful that with the conventional munitions now available such a campaign would achieve its objective . Even if it did, the outrage in Iran would require the government to respond against the attackers.

Iran has a population of 70 million-plus, with a million young men turning 18 every year. Their easiest response would be a conventional land war against the US and Nato forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, which lack the heavy armour and artillery required to fight such a war.

The US is taking months to raise the 30,000 extra troops for the Afghan surge. Where would they find the soldiers to fight a new war. A draft? The last war of this nature between Iraq and Iran caused a million deaths. How many more people will have to die before Blair realises he is out of his depth?

George D Lewis

Brackley, Northamptonshire

The spectre of the late Dr David Kelly hung over the Chilcot Inquiry like Banquo's ghost during the appearance of Tony Blair. What a pity the former PM was not subjected to the confrontational, sometimes offensive, questioning Dr Kelly suffered when he appeared before the Foreign Affairs Select Committee in July 2003. Later, Dr Kelly privately described his tormentor-in-chief, Andrew MacKinlay MP, as an "utter bastard".

If the fat-cat superannuated members of Chilcot had used similar tactics with Blair, the odious arrogance he displayed might have wilted. The spectacle of Blair being publicly humiliated in front of the cameras, as Dr Kelly was, would have been worth every penny of the millions of pounds this toothless inquiry is costing.

Roger Paine

Hellingly, East Sussex

Throughout questioning by Sir Roderic Lyne, Tony Blair kept saying that resolution 1441 clearly allowed the invasion of Iraq. At no point did Sir Roderick challenge this or ask Mr Blair why his unequivocal view was not supported by Lord Goldsmith, Michael Wood, Elizabeth Wilmshurst, the legal experts in Russia, France, and Germany and nearly all international lawyers.

The question of the legality of the war is the only important issue and Blair was let off the hook. They might as well terminate the inquiry now.

John Rogers

London SW16

Taxing time with online tax return

Having forgotten to complete my tax return by the due date, I had to do it online. But this is impossible without having to resort to the HMRC phone helpline. Why resort to the phone? Because the computer program is hopelessly misleading, my phone helpers told me.

As a retired teacher/lecturer with pensions from the Teachers' Pensions Authority in Darlington and the London Pensions Fund Authority, when I was requested to, "Please give details of the payers and the amounts received from each. And also the amount of tax taken by each", I did so.

"ERROR X", in bright red lettering flashed on my screen, accompanied by the surreal admonition, also in red: " 'Please give details of the payers ... can only contain alpha, numeric and the following special characters: '( ) * , - . / & @ £. The enter (or return) key located on your keyboard is not accepted. Please amend'."

Had the computer gone mad? So I tried again, amending my entry slightly. No change; same bizarre instructions. My phone helpers were embarrassed. What I should have done was submit everything in lower case, with no gaps between words or amounts. Could the proverbial chimpanzee write Shakespeare before working this out?

Bob Knowles

London SW15

Israel's wall is to annex land

Alan Halibard asks why Israel should not be allowed to build a security wall while America is allowed to build a much longer one along the Mexican border (letters, 23 January).

Could it have escaped his attention that Israel's West Bank wall cuts off huge chunks of Palestinian territory, and slices many towns and farms in half? Israel may have a right to build a wall on its own territory, but this is a simple attempt to annex land under the guise of security.

David Simmonds

Epping, Essex

That's rich

I see that a government-backed study shows that the richest 10 per cent of the population have 100 times as much wealth as the poorest 10 per cent. That is an indictment of the New Labour years but it won't be helped at all by electing a government directly comprised of members of the richest 10 per cent.

keith Flett

London N17

Sue's still with us

In an otherwise admirable article on ageism in the BBC, Jane Thynne in her radio column (28 January) claims I was "bundled off the Today programme when only 61". This came as some surprise. I was not bundled off or even given a gentle shove. It was entirely my decision to leave, and I did so with much regret, but nearly 18 years of getting up at 3am were quite enough for me, and possibly for listeners. And I am still there, on Radio 4, with The Reunion and A Good Read.

Sue MacGregor

London NW1

Banking on the Co-op

Non-casino banks already exist (letters, 25 January). I am with the Co-operative Bank, and there are others such as the Triodos Bank. These banks are well-known for their ethical (non-casino) investment policies. And as for them costing more, my experience shows this to be the opposite. I left a "casino bank" because I was fed up with their arbitrary bank charges; at the Co-op, I got a current account which paid interest. I would never go back to a so-called high street bank.

Ian K Watson


And that's the truth

Peter Forbes refers to the title of Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini's book, What Darwin got wrong (Arts & Books, 29 January) as "inflammatory and tendentious". As all scientists, in fact all human beings, get something wrong, the title alone can not fail to have an ounce of truth, as Darwin, I suspect, would agree.

Thomas Merriam

Basingstoke, Hampshire

No TV God slot

In my 37 years as a parish priest, I regularly received TV licence demands for the church (letters, 29 January). My practice was to seize the thickest felt pen at my disposal with which to print on the incoming missive, in large letters, "St Mary's/St John's/St Paul's Church is a building dedicated to the worship of Almighty God. Television sets are not used for this purpose". I would then post it back, minus a stamp.

Simon Parkinson

Dewsbury, West Yorkshire