Letters: Prozac and children

It is unethical to experiment on children's brains with Prozac


Sir: It is most disappointing to see your leader approving of the decision to expose children as young as eight to the administration of Prozac (8 June). Of course no one would seriously dispute that children's (dubiously termed) "mental illness" needs to be addressed at the earliest possible opportunity, but to assume that psychotropic medication is the most effective or appropriate "treatment of choice" speaks volumes about the way in which multinational pharmaceutical interests and the crass ideology that medicalises emotional distress have "captured" the policy-making machinery in western culture. Child depression and anxiety are symptoms of what modern technological culture and a crassly arid educational system are doing to our children, and what we urgently need is wise and intelligent research and enlightened policy-making in these areas, rather than some medical "quick-fix" which not only completely fails to address the real causes of these "mental health" problems, but constitutes an unforgiveably unethical experiment on children's developing brains, the long-term negative consequences of which are quite unresearched and totally unpredictable.



Sir: I welcome your editorial on Prozac (fluoxetine) for depression in children and adolescents. However, you express concern that Lilly will market the medicine "without restraint". I would like to make it clear that we will not promote in any way the use of Prozac for children and adolescents should it receive a European approval later in the summer. We are pleased that Prozac is a step closer to being the first approved medicine for depression in children and adolescents, to be used after and in combination with psychological therapy. Lilly is proud of the difference Prozac has made to millions of adults' lives and our role in addressing the stigma that once isolated people with depression. When Lilly does actively market its medicines, it does so in an ethical manner that is consistent with the ABPI Code of Practice and UK regulations.



The creeping Talibanisation of Iraq

Sir: The plight of women in Iraq is even worse than that conveyed in Terri Judd's powerful front-page account (8 June).

My group, the Organisation of Women's Freedom in Iraq, has been exposing the violent political Islamist crimes against women in Iraq for the last three years. A creeping Talibanisation is taking place.

In some places Islamists are even ordering farmers to put shorts on their female goats and sheep. In certain street markets the display of tomatoes and cucumbers is banned due to their association with genital organs.

The death of Zarqawi, a criminal who was certainly behind the death and beheading of many people, including women, will however solve nothing. The real problem is the occupation itself. It is this that has spawned Zarqawi, his imitators and Iraq's growing band of women-haters.



Sir: I was very interested to read your front-page story about women in Iraq, particularly the comment that gender rights in Saddam's Iraq were "once the envy of women across the Middle East". Perhaps your reporter is referring to enlightened Baathist legislation similar to the 1988 law which, according to Middle East expert Charles Tripp, "not only recognised but also legalised the so-called honour killings in Iraqi society", permitting men to kill their wives or female relatives for "dishonouring" their families without fear of judicial punishment.

As for life under Saddam Hussein being preferable to the "bloody and relentless oppression" which occurs now, Iraqi women who come under any of these categories may beg to differ: Kurds; Shias (especially Marsh Arabs); any attractive young woman who crossed Uday Hussein's path (and was lucky enough to survive what followed); female relatives of political prisoners, many of whom were - regardless of age - tortured or gang-raped in front of the latter in order to break their will.



The Israeli security wall is effective

Sir: The chief responsibility of a sovereign nation is the defence of its own citizens. If, as Lady Tonge asserts (letter, 8 June), the security wall being erected by the Israelis has forced suicide bombers to "export themselves" to Iraq, then clearly, for the Israelis, the wall is working. I can think of worse ways in which the Israelis could have protected their people.

Nowhere in her letter could I find a condemnation of the atrocities committed by suicide bombers in Iraq, even though their victims are mainly Muslim, and include those Iraqis trying courageously to build a liberal democracy as opposed to an oppressive, bigoted theocracy.

Menzies Campbell may have confirmed the place of the Liberal Democrats in the progressive, liberal centre of British politics through a rethink of the party's economic policies. But as long as he tolerates the hijacking of foreign policy by the likes of Lady Tonge then the Lib Dems will never be trusted to play a part in the government of this country.



Forest Gate raids: apology not enough

Sir: It was with astonishment that I read Andy Hayman's remarks telling the Muslim community how it should behave or react to these raids (9 June). It reminds me of Steve Biko, the South African Black Nationalist's comments: "Not only are whites kicking us; they are telling us how to react to being kicked." The only way for the so-called apology from the police to be taken seriously by the Muslim community is for Hayman or his colleagues to take responsibility for the atrocious intelligence and behaviour of his officers and resign. It is little wonder that the Prime Minister has fully supported the raids given his propensity for following unintelligible intelligence.



Change the clocks to save the planet

Sir: I would like to resurrect the debate about a move to Central European Time a little early. This debate normally takes place in the autumn, when the reversion to GMT brings dark evenings for six months of the year. However, the benefits of adopting Central European Time should also be considered at this time of the year. This past weekend, even in London, the sun rose before 4.45am and set at about 9.15pm. Given that the vast majority of people in the UK will still be asleep when light becomes "free", but will be awake at dusk and therefore need to turn on their lights, then for the sake of the environment wouldn't adoption of Central European Time be a sensible move?



The need for more practical bicycles

Sir: Your report (7 June) quotes lack of facilities as restricting a greater take-up of cycling in this country but a more immediate obstacle is the failure of the British cycle trade to sell bicycles that are practical and suitable for British conditions and climate.

I have not been able to find a single UK cycle shop that sells the standard European commuter bicycle. Cycle shops here mainly sell mountain bikes having balloon tyres, absurd wide gears and minimalist mudguards hopelessly inadequate for our weather. They also suffer from having no luggage rack. The so-called hybrid variations stocked by some shops are little better.

One has to go to the Continent to purchase a bicycle with traditional handlebars, chain guard, sensible tyres, integrated lighting, luggage carriers and gear ratios suitable for the terrain of most parts of Britain. If UK cycle traders were to abandon the wacky and embrace the practical it would boost their turnover.



Sir: For my last year of cycle-commuting into Oxford, I bought myself an odometer. It seems that in 27 years I must have done about 120,000 kilometres - three times the circumference of the earth or a third of the distance to the moon. I have got through 10 bicycles at a net cost less than a couple of major car overhauls.

I can't claim to have saved on road tax, car insurance etc, as I also have a small car for occasional journeys, but if I had used it for commuting I would have put an extra eight tons of carbon into the atmosphere (a Chelsea tractor would have emitted far more). All this has needed no athletic prowess; if I am fit it is because I cycle and not the other way round. And it is such fun overtaking cars in the rush-hour!



Sir In your reports on 7 June you forgot to mention one major disadvantage of cars compared with bicycles: cars kill people - thousands every year - bicycles don't.



Lib-Dem policies on law and order

Sir: The claim in your leading article of 9 June that "Sir Menzies Campbell's recent call for longer sentences was a text-book lurch to the right" is a bizarre overreaction to what Ming has actually said about sentencing. Far from lurching to the right, Ming was criticising recent Government legislation which dramatically weakens the existing system of parole, and arguing for greater coherence in sentencing.

The new law means that from April 2005 offenders are being automatically released from prison once they have served 50 per cent of their sentence, regardless of individual circumstances. Allowing parole boards to make case-by-case judgements about whether an individual is ready to be released into the community is a crucial component in getting the right custodial and non-custodial mix in sentencing. It escapes me how a defence of parole boards, and a plea for more consistency in sentencing, can be described as "right wing".

A liberal, progressive approach to law and order is meaningless if it is not practical as well as principled, workable on the ground as well as coherent on paper. Hurling abuse at any attempt to marry liberal principles with practical proposals to strengthen our battered criminal-justice system is short sighted in the extreme. Should liberals simply remain mute on issues of such overriding public concern?



David Cameron's views on wealth

Sir: Your report "Cameron backs redistribution of wealth" (9 June), has echoes of the Churchill cabinet, with its intention to reduce inequality of incomes post-war, as recorded in John Colville's diary for 21 August 1940. Thatcher destroyed that consensus, and Blair has continued her work.

David Cameron is quoted as saying: "I don't think that making the top 1 per cent richest poorer makes the 10 per cent poorest richer". R J Waldmann, an epidemiologist, writing in the Quarterly Journal of Economics of an analysis of the data from some 70 countries, has a different slant. He found, to his own surprise, "that if you held the incomes of the poorest 20 per cent constant in absolute terms, then the higher the incomes of the richest 5 per cent, the higher also were infant mortality rates".

This is part of an ever-growing body of international research showing the strong correlation between gross income inequality and a whole range of social ills, particularly in advanced countries like ours.



Oh, to live in Venice

Sir: I must take issue with your statement that "With its absence of motor traffic, [Venice] has always been a highly inconvenient town in which to live" (6 June).

In fact, the opposite is true. The lack of motor vehicles means that everyone either walks or uses public transportation. Consequently there are no traffic jams, the air is clean and one can estimate one's time of arrival at any destination to the nearest minute. As a side benefit, the remaining population, young and old, are as fit as a butcher's dog - although they have no excuse for being late.



Immigrants' English

Sir: Gordon Brown proposes that we show traditional British tolerance by forcing immigrants of all ages and abilities to learn English. Surely nothing could show a more complete adoption of British values than the absolute refusal/inability to master a second language?



Protect World Heritage

Sir: Roger Harrabin's report (9 June) on the potentially devastating effects of climate change on World Heritage sites omits a key fact. World Heritage sites are established and safeguarded under the 1972 World Heritage Convention by Unesco (in Paris) rather than by "the UN" (in New York). Many of these face serious problems beside climate change. With 33 sites now on the endangered list and many more on the borderline the need for urgent action is obvious. Governments should give higher priority and greater resources to World Heritage sites before it is too late.



Yobs hate Mozart

Sir: Howard Jacobson writes that in Wollongong, Australia, non-stop Bing Crosby has frightened off misbehaving and noisy youths (10 June) and says "Why we haven't tried it here I can't imagine". Well, we have. Or anyway classical music, with the same effect. We borrowed the idea from some town centres in the north and found that, with other measures such as never-drying paint, it has been most effective. A licence fee has to be paid to the appropriate authorities, of course.



The decking craze

Sir: What will future historians think of the "decking" phenomenon that is now plaguing suburbia. Will it go the way of the antimacassar?



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