Letters: Fatherhood and health

On fatherhood and health, men need to articulate their needs
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The Independent Online

Sir: Duncan Fisher does not go far enough in his condemnation of how fathers and men are treated by the NHS and society ("Stop ignoring fathers when babies are born", 14 April). We are described as a bystander, inconvenience or potential threat at every opportunity. Who judges us as this the most harshly? Other men and fathers. We ourselves are the major culprits at bringing about our own downfall. Our "positive" collective voice is so weak that we rely upon Fathers for Justice for the inappropriate recognition. Our "negative" collective voice is ferocious, self-critical, unforgiving and ready to condemn any man who stands out as anything other than normal.

Mr Fisher, although keen to tackle the Government, the work environment and the maternity suite, has gone for the easy targets, blaming institutions and social convention rather than looking at who holds the real power for change: men.

Although we hold the power, we have a number of obstacles in our way, one of which is fear: fear of being seen as needy, fear of being seen as a threat and fear of communicating that something might be wrong. The clearest demonstration of this is our resistance to going to the doctor. Our failure to look after ourselves is met equally by the NHS's lack of desire to treat us. The inequality shows itself most clearly in gender-specific cancers (breast/cervical and prostate cancer). Woman have fought for treatment and gained necessary services, while men have been too embarrassed to care for their own needs. A simple, compulsory test at age 55 for prostate cancer could prolong life for many men and give them the chance of reaching old age like their female compatriots.

We men need to find the language women acquired a generation ago, to articulate our needs and show that fathers, brothers, sons, nephews and uncles are important to our society. We need to educate our sons and show them that they are important and equal, to remove the tags of "perceived danger" and "unimportant" that every boy is labelled with at birth. Mr Fisher, the time to complain is over, the time to do is now.

Andrew Mann


Human organs must go to most in need

Sir: I read with interest the media's coverage of the story of Rachel Leake, the woman who was refused her daughter's kidney by the Human Tissue Authority despite her daughter's "deathbed plea" (report, 12 April). The general consensus seems to be that this is an abhorrent decision, but I do not think that the majority of journalists and respondents have considered all possible points.

The circumstances raise the wider question of the ethics of organ donation. The timing of Laura Ashworth's death, tragic as it was, is simply unfortunate. She was in the process of applying to be a living donor (a position that would have allowed her to nominate on organ recipient), but her death triggered the enactment of the laws by which all must abide. They state that, post mortem, the deceased's organs must go to the most needy – the patients at the top of the transplant list. Regrettably, or perhaps fortunately, Miss Ashworth's mother was not in this position and to criticise the authorities for following procedure is astonishing.

Similarly, to demonise the recipients is contemptible. Would detractors suggest that a man who has been on dialysis for years and is at the top of the list but has no living relatives be refused a kidney while a patient with a less bleak prognosis but a blood relation receive it? If we follow this route, we arrive at the murky world of selective donation and risk following a path that would result in a shortage of organs and a collapse of the system.

This is, in short, why the HTA has imposed a blanket ban on such donations while they carry out a review.

Rhys Moores

Bredbury, Cheshire

Poor soil quality is affecting food stocks

Sir: Your front page feature on food shortages ("The other global crisis", 12 April) should also have highlighted the poor state of much of our soil.

Throughout most of Europe, soil carbon levels are in decline, leading to a loss of fertility and structure and an increase in soil erosion. Yet there is a relatively easy sustainable solution to reversing this decline through the use of organic waste. In the UK alone, at least 10 million tonnes of organic waste is thrown away each year, with only three million being turned into compost.

At the same time, ignorant Brussels bureaucrats, aided by Defra, have come up with restrictions on how much organic compost material can be applied to land, failing to recognise that organic compost behaves very differently from artificial fertilisers. There are numerous technologies to ensure organic waste can be safely converted into top-quality organic fertilisers and soil conditioners, something that will supply organic nutrients and organic matter, and help to rebuild humus and increase carbon in soil.

Protecting the soil is vital, but generally speaking it has not happened anywhere in the world over the past 50 years. Soil needs plenty of organic matter to maintain its vitality. The world can grow enough food provided we look after the soil.

Charlie Trousdell

KeymerWest Sussex

We must protect our soldiers' rights

Sir: Mr Justice Collins must be applauded for his ruling that sending troops to war with defective equipment could constitute a breach of their human rights (report, 12 April). This is one significant step towards holding ministers to account for the instances in which defective or unavailable equipment has contributed to the deaths of armed forces personnel.

It appears that the judiciary is upholding the military covenant despite the attempts of the Ministry of Defence to undermine it. The armed forces will risk their lives for the defence of the nation, but they and their families have a legitimate expectation to be equipped appropriately.

The decision of the Government to appeal the ruling clearly demonstrates that they will stop at nothing to cover up the legacy of under-funding, cutbacks and overstretch that cripples the armed forces and has led to the loss of lives.

Iain Paton

Flight Lieutenant, Royal Air Force (Retired) Kirkcaldy, Fife

Sir: If the high court ruling that troops should not be sent to war without being properly equipped had been in effect during the Second World War, we would now be a German state. In the fog of war, equipment has always been late in arriving and personnel have made the best of what they had. That is how wars are won, not by sitting on your heels and complaining that you haven't got the right gear for the job.

David Foster

Whatfield, SuffolkMake free bus travel a right for everyone

Sir: Mary Dejevsky's somewhat mean-minded attitude to the issue of free bus passes to anyone over 60 (12 April) misses one important point.

Having been a recent recipient of this pass and the Senior Railcard, I have made many public transport journeys in preference to using my car, with all the environmental and congestion benefits that implies. I would imagine that many of those "hale and hearty" 60-year-olds are car owners who are making the positive decision to use public transport instead. Indeed, the logical extension of this is to make all public transport free for everybody (or heavily subsidised, as in many European countries), which would go a long way towards reducing our carbon footprint and improving our health.

Unlike Londoners, many of us living in rural areas do not have access to regular or reliable public transport. If more people use the services that are available, the current attitude that public transport is only a welfare service for non-car owners will change and services improve. Only then will a truly comprehensive and attractive public transport system be created in the UK.

Paul Haywood

Farnhill, North Yorkshire

Sir: Mary Dejevsky seems to have a particular type of person in mind to whom she does not believe the free bus passes should be given – namely, males under 65. Well, I am a 61-year-old male who is deaf in both ears. I live on a small pension and do supply teaching work when I can get it, but without free transport I would be in an even worse position. So when you see your "hale and hearty, expensively dressed grey-heads", Mary, please remember they are the lucky ones.

R Lawson

London NW6

Sir: Surely the social, health and environmental benefits of free public transport to people of any age are obvious. The cost Mary Dejevsky quotes is not a real expense if people are using services that would have run anyway. I doubt additional buses have been provided to cope with demand.

Robert Hobbs

Richmond, Surrey

Bishops do protect clergy from abuse

Sir: Rachel Maskell, of Unite, comments that the Church of England's bishops are "crossing the road to the other side" in relation to their alleged failure to support of clergy who are being bullied and harassed by their parishioners (report, 14 April).

These comments are, in my experience, wide of the mark. Indeed, they are on a par with the accusations in the 1970s that trades unions were nothing more than troublemakers.

Having been a member of senior staff teams of dioceses for 16 years, I can assure Ms Maskell that we are far more frequently charged with over-protecting the clergy. One suspects that most bishops function somewhere between the various accusations, which might arguably be about right.

Rt Rev Mike Hill

Bishop of Bristol

Marathon athletes acted like animals

Sir: While walking my dog, Skipper, in Greenwich Park early on Sunday morning, I expected to encounter the thronging masses of runners from the London Marathon. I was not prepared for the sight of hundreds of "athletes" urinating and defecating in bushes and against trees all over the park. There was no attempt by the police or the marshals to stop their disgusting behaviour.

In many respects, I am sure the organisers deserve credit for managing the event so well, but the inadequate number of toilets must be addressed before next year. We dog-walkers pick up our pets' excrement and deposit it in the receptacles provided or face a £50 fine. Shouldn't these people face similar penalties?

David Nicholson

London SE13

Small architects have technical skills

Sir: Excuse me, John Mallett, but you are wrong (Letters, 9 April). Small practices have highly technically skilled architects. You only have to look at the information exchanges on the Riba's intranet to see the wealth of technical expertise out there.

Yes, if you work for a large practice doing design and build for vast PFI projects, the nearest thing you might get to a sand sample is your children's sandpit, but I can tell how good a sand is for different purposes by looking at it and feeling it. I also have the knowledge to specify materials so that my walls not only do their job but have something special about them that is indefinable but good.

All our jobs are designed, detailed and inspected on site by architects and those training to be architects. Why don't you come up and see my details?

Francesca Weal, RIBA

Welwyn, Hertfordshire

Model behaviour

Sir: How intriguing to read Carole White's statement that "Most of our models eat junk food" (Media Weekly, 14 April). Perhaps she could be more specific and provide us with some of the actual brand names and products they tend to buy. I think the obese of this country would very much like to know.

Emilie Lamplough

Trowbridge, Wiltshire

Abuse of anti-terror law

Sir: With regard to Poole borough council's use of anti-terrorist powers granted to government agencies under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act to establish the true domicile of prospective primary-school parents (report, 11 April), it was only a matter of time before such swingeing powers became subject to function creep. And in a similar manner the police DNA database, currently being created by stealth, will likewise be deployed "creatively" for purposes never originally envisaged – except by George Orwell.

Ian Petticrew

TRING, Hertfordshire

New way to choose MPs

Sir: Kenneth Arrow won a Nobel Prize by proving that no voting system guarantees against the election of people whom the majority do not want. In any case, any system chooses between candidates, who are by definition people who have put themselves forward. As the majority of people are not the sort who put themselves forward, the only way to have a representative assembly is to choose its members at random. This is the way we choose jurors, so should it not also be the way we elect parliaments?

P J Stewart


Change your Taylor

Sir: I know that Gordon Brown has been keen to employ Liberal Democrats as advisers, but the words of wisdom offered to the Prime Minister by Matthew Taylor, the former head of No 10's Policy Unit, is accompanied by a photograph of Matthew Taylor, the Liberal Democrat MP (14 April). A Lib Dem in charge of Downing Street Policy? Has Mr Brown's big tent become so big that it has split apart at the seams?

The Rev Paul Hunt

Chairman, National Liberal Club, London SW1

No tax break for singles

Sir: Jo Kennedy (Letters, 14 April), in advocating tax relief for childless single people because they're helping prevent overpopulation, forgets that those who choose not to have children are also not producing the next generation whose work and taxes will pay for the upkeep of those of the preceding generations too old or ill to work. So who deserves the tax break?

Martin Smith

Headington, Oxfordshire

Walking cure

Sir: Now that we have bus lanes and cycle lanes, it would be nice if pedestrian lanes were reintroduced. They used to be known as pavements.