I fail to see how a patient of mine, let's call her Doris, will continue to see me as her trusted medical carer when word reaches her that her old friend from bingo, Mavis, was "put to sleep" the week before by someone from a medical team in the area. Doris, in allowing me into her bedroom to attend to her would view me in a completely different light: would she wonder what was in my syringe as I alleviate her pain and nausea? What sort of GP/patient relationship would there be then?
A change in the law would put undue pressure and influence on the dying person to speed things along. I see families becoming worn out night after night as the patient lies in a slowly deteriorating condition, asking me how long it will be. If the Bill comes into effect then in due course, maybe many years down the line, there will be a sure step from voluntary assistance to die, to involuntary.
DR MARK HARNEY
Sir: Despite Lord Joffe suggesting his proposals be limited to doctors prescribing lethal drugs for patients or others to administer, this would still be a "right to die" for patients sanctioned by those whose duty is to care for them.
As a GP I frequently meet people who are frail, chronically ill and frightened. They usually consider themselves a burden to others. A "right to die" would easily come a duty to die. No one could know whether such people were acting mainly out of concern that the "burden" of caring for them be lifted from those close to them.
I remain convinced that the compassionate choice is not to change the law, but to do all we can to enable people to die in their own homes whenever possible.
ASHTON-IN-MAKERFIELD, GREATER MANCHESTER
Sir: The key point about David Cameron's rapid rise to stardom is simple. Faced with a choice between good policies they don't like (Clarke) and bad policies that can't get them elected (Fox, Davies), the only alternative for the Tories is no policies. Cameron fits the bill perfectly, and the whole debate duly turns to how "nice" he is and whether he dallied with drugs in his youth. Will Britain ever have a serious political debate again?
DR MARK CORNER
Sir: Surely the most important consideration when choosing a potential prime minister is soundness of political judgement. Fortunately we have the perfect yardstick for measuring this. Did the candidate vote for war on Iraq or not? To have voted for war by following the herd instinct instead of thinking for oneself and intelligently weighing up what real evidence there was, would show a lamentable lack of judgement.
For the same reason, the question of whether a candidate has or has not experimented with class A drugs is relevant to his suitability for the job. Not only does it show a propensity for breaking the law (and we have had quite enough of the present Prime Minister riding roughshod over international law with disastrous consequences), but it's a damned silly risk to take with one's own long term health. It is therefore also indicative of poor judgement.
It looks as though the Conservative Party might make the same mistake as the Labour Party when it appointed that vain and shallow boy Blair. Policies, understanding, strength of character and experience count for nothing, as long as the image and the spin are right. In the long run such a course of action will be disastrous for the Conservatives, disastrous for Britain and unfortunate for the wider world.
A P CONIAM
Sir: The stench of journalistic and political hypocrisy relating to David Cameron is becoming unbearable. However, there is a much more serious aspect to this, which goes beyond the "youthful indiscretions" of anyone in public life.
Sixty years ago, the ablest and brightest of my father's generation of graduates went into politics. Today, the ablest and brightest of my children's generation of graduates are likely to be drawn into investment banking, not because they particularly want to do it, but because of the prospect of earning large amounts of money.
Why on earth would anyone in their 20s or 30s actually want to be a politician? The earnings are relatively meagre, the kudos is limited, and, as David Cameron is now learning, anyone of ability who is in danger of actually achieving anything simply gets dragged into embarrassing and largely academic debates about cannabis smoking rather than engaging with issues of real substance.
Through great good fortune it appears that we have in this Parliament's intake MPs, David Cameron included, with the ability to serve in senior governmental posts. It may even be that there is a future Conservative prime minister among them if the Conservative Party manages to avoid self-destruction and oblivion. Any democrat of whatever political persuasion should be thankful that this is the case and that there are glimmers of hope that a credible opposition to a profoundly anti-democratic government may yet still emerge. For the sake of our democracy, able young politicians and aspiring politicians need nurturing, supporting and encouraging.
Sir: Here is a question which should be answered by all those who want to ask David Cameron whether he has taken drugs. "Have you ever broken the speed limit, driven while even slightly over the alcohol limit or parked illegally on single or double yellow lines?" All these offences should be of far more concern as they endanger other people.
Sir: The one thing in David Cameron's past that interests me is the fact that he voted for war on Iraq in 2003. He cannot be a credible leader of the opposition to a government whose worst mistake he supported. After the fervid Blair years we need a total change, just as we needed Macmillan after the catastrophe of Eden's Suez invasion. Of the leadership candidates only Kenneth Clarke is capable of offering us that.
P J STEWART
BOARS HILL, OXFORDSHIRE
Sir: Before it is too late, Tory MPs should be warned that if they exclude Ken Clarke from the final two candidates for the leadership, they will be committing collective political suicide. It is not Tory MPs who will decide the outcome of the next general election; and the non-Tory voters who will are shown in poll after poll to favour Ken Clarke as the only viable alternative to any Labour leader.
DR ANNE-CAROLE CHAMIER
ARDROSS BY ALNESS, ROSS AND CROMARTY
Sir: Maybe everybody is barking up the wrong tree regarding David Cameron and his alleged drug history. Could it be that he is trying to hide the reality that he has, in fact, never been near any illicit substances? Such a revelation would surely align him with the "old Tory" image he is so keen to avoid.
Send waste paper back to ministers
Sir: This week, I attended a meeting at which it was explained that the problems of lack of land for waste disposal, and in particular of methane produced by organic matter, have become so acute that central government now imposes heavy fines on local government for excessive waste, especially organic waste.
A few days later, the place where I live received from the Department of Health twelve copies of a 28-page leaflet explaining to us how to eat fruit and vegetables. When in recent years I was working in higher education, at least 60 per cent of our paper waste was either produced or required by the Department of Education. About 5 per cent of the documents were needed.
I suggest that those of us who care about the environment return unwanted paper to those ministers responsible for it, for them to deal with. Perhaps that will force them to begin to put two and two together.
Muddles on the London Tube
Sir: Referring to Barrie Clement's article on the consequences of privatisation of the London tube system (14 October), I was the manager of the Northern Line in the 1960s.
The peak period service required a hundred trains, which is considerably more than in the present service and more than many complete urban transport systems.
Responsibility for the operation of the trains and the signalling and the maintenance of the trains, track and signalling came under a unified management and worked very well as a team. Of course we had bad days, but we were rarely running more than two or three minutes late at the end of a peak period.
The present muddles which resulted from splitting up these responsibilities was inevitable and has affected the main lines railways in a similar way. I understand that very few, if any, people with relevant experiences were included in the committees responsible for the present organisation, which were dominated by the Treasury.
J K C HENDERSON
Iraq report exposes the grim reality
Sir: Patrick Cockburn's bleak but magnificent special report on Iraq (14 October) should be compulsory reading for every MP. It might alert them, belatedly, to the self-serving fantasy pumped out by the Government to them and their constituents. It confirms that Tony Blair has no influence on events in Iraq, and if he had he is not fit to exercise it.
Sir: I read in The Independent (14 October) that Captain Will Blackhurst in the Basra region says the Iraqi militia are cowardly, and "hide in shadows and then run away before you have the chance to capture, or, if necessary, kill them".
Does Captain Blackhurst know of any other guerillas anywhere in the world who behave differently, that is, hang around in brightly lit spaces and allow themselves to be either captured or shot?
Fears of bird flu are out of proportion
Sir: Yasmin Alibhai-Brown and Tony Blair do seem to be getting their knickers in an excessive twist about bird flu ("When pestilence reaches our safe, secure shores", 17 October).
The possibility of 50,000 deaths from the disease in the winter of 2006-7 is not exactly pleasant, but according to your own report on another page, that number is only four times as many as the deaths from flu in an average winter. If an outbreak does occur, patients will be dealt with by what is still a first world health service. It is a far cry from, say, 50,000 dead in the mountains of Pakistan as a result of an earthquake.
UNIVERSITY OF SUSSEX, BRIGHTON
Nobel laureate belongs to Ireland
Sir: I see that in your editorial of 14 October, "Pause for Applause", you took the opportunity of Harold Pinter's well-deserved Nobel Prize for Literature to lay claim to one of the four Irish Nobel Laureates, stating that "not since George Bernard Shaw has a British playwright been so famous."
Bernard Shaw was born in Dublin, and by the time he won the Nobel Prize in 1925 the Irish Free State had been formed and Ireland was well on the way to becoming a Republic. Although living for many years in England it is well documented that he proudly retained his Irish nationality and support for Irish causes. Following the Easter Rising of 1916 he pleaded with the English to stop the executions of the leaders and wrote that the Irish had every right to fight for their freedom.
Sir:I couldn't help wondering whether the critics had missed the point of Rachel Whiteread's box installation at the Tate Modern ("Whiteread's 14,000 white boxes divide the critics", 12 October) when it is so obviously a homage to the gallery's original founder and namesake, in the form of a multitude of giant sugar lumps.
Sir: Norman Baker and Oliver Letwin are to be congratulated for calling Tony Blair's bluff on global warming ("Opposition parties demand action on climate change", 12 October). With the offer of a cross-party consensus on the issue, Blair can no longer avoid meaningful action. There are no excuses left; if he fails to take the necessary measures now (applying the "polluter pays" principle to the aviation industry, for example) it will be because he simply doesn't care about the kind of world that our children will inherit.
Sir: Joseph Heller would be proud. In his novel Catch-22 only insane airmen were allowed to go home, but the insane were happy to stay. Any attempt to escape from flying showed sanity, and was therefore prevented. For Zimbabwean asylum seekers, only those whose lives would be in danger may stay here, but simply applying to stay will put their lives in danger.
Village school run
Sir: Your editorial concerning the mushrooming sales of 4x4s (15 October) highlights the problems in London. Even here in rural Essex the local village primary school is besieged twice daily by hordes of "steel overcoats", when few of the pupils live more than a mile from the school. Do these children ever get to walk further than where the car is parked?
Sir: I notice recent references in your columns to "outraged" of Tunbridge Wells. Whatever happened to "disgusted", or is he the same character, who has been updated? I have lived in Tunbridge Wells nearly twenty years and never met either of them.
TUNBRIDGE WELLS, KENTReuse content