Letters: Cancer treatment

The phrase 'fighting against cancer' is deeply flawed
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The Independent Online

As a practising cancer specialist, I fully support Judy Benson in her opinion that the idea of patients battling cancer is flawed, and that "it makes dying into a personal failure" (letters, 23 January).

It is too simplistic, and, worse, unfair to those patients, usually ones with more advanced and inherently more aggressive disease, who can be undermined by the perception that survivors have somehow fought harder than those less fortunate.

"Cancer" covers different conditions with a range of natural histories and patterns of behaviour. As an example, some prostate cancer patients can live 10 years or more without even needing simple hormone therapy, whereas the outlook for those with pancreatic or lung cancer, in general, remains poor, despite advances in surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

Any perception that it is somehow a cancer patient's fault if they "lose the battle" (implying that they did not try hard enough, and that more effort on their part would have been successful), is to be abhorred. Unfortunately, such nonsense is widely pervasive, even among clinicians, and risks stigmatising patients in the eyes of close family and friends that they are somehow responsible if their cancer spreads, or doesn't respond to treatment, or indeed proves to be fatal.

Similarly, in some circumstances, declining particular treatments, based on an informed choice of risks and benefits, doesn't mean they have "given up".

Dr Bruce Sizer

Consultant in Clinical Oncology, Essex County Hospital

Role of burka in Western society

The furore over the burka (report, 27 January) is the latest in a long line of stories suggesting that European governments don't quite know how to interact with Islam. I can offer a simple solution: treat religions as we treat any other belief.

Let's change the word "Islam" to "Marxism" to illustrate my point. We should be free to criticise Marxism, mock Marxists, and publish funny pictures of Karl Marx. But we should not discriminate against Marxists, or vilify them all just because a few have blown up planes.

We certainly should not hit them with exceptional legislation; this just gives the impression of the state being hostile to the whole belief. This method works for everything from faith schools to sharia law.

Take the veil, for example. Marxist women should be allowed to wear it in public, as long as it complies with British law. So they can wear it on the high street, but anywhere I have to remove my balaclava or motorcycle helmet – banks, stores, airports – so, too, should Marxists remove the veil.

Sam Wilkin

Stanmore, Middlesex

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, as chair of Muslims for Secular Democracy, supports "restrictions" on women wearing the burka "in key public spaces" (Opinion, 25 January). With the veil-wearer, it seems "communication is unequal because one party hides all expression".

As an ordinary Anglo- Saxon/Celtic atheist, might I suggest that she first persuade the commanders of the various Christian and Jewish armies at present occupying "key public areas" of the Middle East to get their men and women to remove the wrap-around, mirrored sunglasses many of them favour. After all, isn't it the eyes, rather than the nose or mouth, that are the windows of the soul?

Mark Kesteven


Yasmin Alibhai-Brown takes an unexplained swipe at the Muslim Council of Britain as she pursues a bizarre attack on those women who choose to wear the veil. She claims that the Muslim Council of Britain is "retrogressive", but gives no reason for this.

The Muslim Council of Britain is a democratic, cross-sectarian Muslim umbrella body that does not pass judgement on any Muslim tradition or tendency. We have consistently argued for equality of opportunity, not for special privilege.

Ms Alibhai-Brown rails against "liberal Westerners" who do not submit to her "progressive Muslim" aim of restricting the veil in public places. We presume her ire would also be reserved for President Obama who said last year: "It is important for Western countries to avoid impeding Muslim citizens from practising religion as they see fit, for instance, by dictating what clothes a Muslim woman should wear. We cannot disguise hostility towards any religion behind the pretence of liberalism."

Tufael Ahmed

Secretary, Media Committee, Muslim Council of Britain, London E1

Misleading labels on processed food

It is indeed scandalous that processed convenience foods or ready meals can mislead the consumer to such an extent that a chicken sandwich made with chicken from Thailand can be labelled as "produced in the UK" ("Convenience food labelling 'misleading'", 15 January). Studies show that three-quarters of consumers want to be able to see where their food comes from, and there can be nobody who actually wants to be misled by food labelling.

We are working on new legislation in the European Parliament, where I am responsible for the issue on behalf of the centre-left group of MEPs from the 27 member states, and I hope our work will result in the provision of clear and accurate information on all the food we buy.

I have submitted amendments, backed by Which? and the NFU, to ensure that no longer can we be misled about the origin of the food we are eating in processed products. If successful, these amendments will ensure that labelling of the country of origin of a product becomes mandatory. They will also guarantee that, for meat products, information must be provided stating where the animal was reared

Glenis Willmott MEP (Lab, East Midlands)

Leader of the European Parliamentary Labour Party, Brussels

Sometimes doctors do know best

I note the dismissive style in which Jeremy Laurance comments on "clinical freedom" ( 20 January). He may regard "pushing routine cases to the back of the queue" as a bad thing, successfully stamped out by targets, but I would venture to suggest that there are times when individual clinical judgement is far more important than meeting a target. The four-hour target in A&E may have reduced waiting times, but it also means that in the world of figures and targets, a stubbed toe that came in three hours and 59 minutes ago has a higher priority than a person with multiple wounds requiring immediate lifesaving treatment.

I would suggest that the best people to make the judgement about clinical priority probably are doctors. Routine cases don't only get put off because they are "less interesting"; sometimes (in fact, more frequently) they get put off because the doctors genuinely want those people with life-threatening illness to be seen and treated first.

Dr Bryony Rudd

Bideford, Devon

Homeopathy: show us some evidence

Stanley Knill misunderstands both the scientific method and the history of science (letters, 25 January). Scientists and sceptics do not reject homeopathy because they "don't understand how that is possible", but because there is no evidence that it works any better than a placebo, has no pharmacologically active ingredients, and because it violates known principles of physics and chemistry.

Science is open to new ideas, as long as they have evidence to back them up (and if you're trying to overturn the status quo, you need some very strong evidence). That is precisely why Pasteur's theories are now accepted: they were shown to be correct with evidence. When homeopaths have some evidence to back up their magical thinking, then we'll talk.

Ben Bawden

Epsom, Surrey

Gambling on Duralex glasses

At my secondary school in the late 1970s we used the versatile French glass Duralex ("The glass tumbler that would not be broken", 27 January). We played a modification of the game French schoolkids played, adding the serial numbers underneath at each lunchtime; the kid with the highest total by the end of the week won a Mars bar from the others.

Intriguingly, not all the glasses came from France; a few had "Spain" stamped near the serial number. If you got one of these, you won an extra 10 points.

Michael O'Hare

Northwood, Middlesex

No such thing as a wasted vote

I agree wholeheartedly with Mike Maas (letters, 22 January). There is no such thing as a wasted vote. Voting is not about choosing a winner; it is an opportunity to register an opinion and influence an outcome. One may be faced with choosing the least unappealing candidate. If this is unpalatable, cross them all off the ballot paper and state "None of these", rather than do nothing.

In the last general election, 39 per cent spoilt ballot papers would have sent out a stronger message of discontent than a 61 per cent turnout did, the second-lowest turnout since 1945. Doing nothing is the greatest waste of all.

Tony Taylor

Nantwich, Cheshire

As a 16-year-old about to finish secondary education, I strongly feel that our generation is not getting enough education on politics.

Imagine a child being suddenly given an exam on a subject they have never learnt about and have no prior knowledge of. They will surely fail the test and the whole thing will be pointless. We are given no teaching of how politics works (apart from the occasional bits and pieces that crop up in other subjects such as English and religious education), and yet when we leave school and enter into the world we are expected to vote.

I feel politics should be taught, from a strictly enforced neutral standpoint, in all secondary schools.

Chloe Carpenter

Monkton Heathfield, Somerset

In arguing for the right to abstain from voting, Nick Chadwick (letters, 27 January) says such an expression of disaffection might encourage a little humility in those re-elected.

We have seen lower and lower turnouts over the past few elections, but neither Gordon Brown nor Tony Blair seem to affect much humility. It's difficult to think of any politician of significance who has.

David Humphrey

London W5


The bell tolls

You report on the plummeting population of the winchat (23 January). A young, well-fed cat of my acquaintance has, in the past week, when birds are desperate for food and taking risks, killed three fledglings, taking his tally from spring that I know of to 11. Has the time come for cats to be muzzled?

Rob Evans

Brynsiencyn, Ynys Mon

God's truth

The Occupier of St James' Church, Old Ellerby, East Yorkshire, has received notice from the TVLA people that they have no record of a TV licence for the property. The Occupier, being rather above such things as licences, is in no position to reply, but a member of the congregation did. Having pointed out the nature of the building and given an assurance that there is no TV, she has now been officially warned that an inspector may call. I belive I can feel a sermon coming on.

Revd Canon Chris Simmons

The New Rectory, Brandesburton, Humberside

No bet

I like the idea of a non-casino bank available to all as a choice of bank (letters, 25 January). But if in good times bank costs are funded by banks' casino profits, then without them the non-casino bank would have to charge its ordinary customers more, particularly those who keep in credit and therefore don't now pay charges. So if the non-casino bank did cost more, would people then choose it as the honourable thing to do?

H Trevor Jones


Clink for drinkers

As usual, the majority must suffer to curb the activities of the few (The Big Question, "Will banning cheap offers lead to people drinking less?", 20 January), in this case, the relatively few binge drinkers. It is the visible effect of the abuse on the streets that is the problem. The police, rather than spending their time on awareness courses, should be instructed to take back control of the streets. A night in the cells would clear a few heads.

William W Scott

North Berwick, East Lothian

Fat chance

Will discounts be available for underweight passengers? ("Overweight? Then you'll have to buy two seats", 21 January.)

John Gibbs

Mexico City