Letters: The best tribute to Pratchett would be to change the law on dying

These letters appear in the 18 March edition of The Independent

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The best tribute we can pay to Terry Pratchett now is to focus our minds on how we can bring our laws regarding assisted dying into line with what happens in practice, with overwhelming public opinion and with common sense.

There is a glaring mismatch between the wording and the application of the law. Since 1998 well over 200 Britons have broken the law by helping relatives go to the Dignitas Clinic in Switzerland, where assisted dying is legal. On each occasion the Crown Prosecution Service has decided against prosecution. To add to the confusion, the law allows people to take their own lives (Suicide Act, 1961), while on the other hand, it defines as a criminal anyone assisting another to die. Thus it is a crime to help someone do something which is not a crime.

According to Professor Emily Jackson, a third of all deaths in Britain today are by morphine overdose, administered by doctors, which allows patients to die painlessly and with dignity; while the removal of life support by medical staff on the patient’s request is responsible for another third. Both these life-terminating actions are premeditated and legal. And yet assisting someone to die at the Dignitas Clinic could mean 14 years in prison. Such inconsistencies discredit the law. If some laws can be ignored without consequences, then why not other laws?

We have autonomy in almost every aspect of our lives today, as long as we do not harm others, except when it comes to that most final and private of choices: the manner of our dying. It is the state which decides for us. Surely only the most zealous of collectivists would continue to insist that intensely suffering people should be kept alive against their will.

David Simmonds
Woking, Surrey


Common sense on  race and diversity

I am afraid the knee-jerk outrage expressed about Trevor Phillips’ recent measured comments on the issues around ethnic and religious difference rather proves his point (“Phillips accused of developing ‘dangerous’ views about race”, 17 March).

Of course, there is still significant prejudice in our society and Phillips knows that well enough. But to attempt to exclude any criticism of the behaviour of individuals who happen also to be of a racial, religious or other minority is perverse and hardly helpful to society.

Most of us sometimes do things which others will question, and the mere fact of us belonging to a minority that was or is still discriminated against should not protect us from legitimate comment. If we are truly to rejoice in our multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society we have to be both more appreciative of but also less sensitive about diversity.

Gavin Turner
Gunton, Norfolk


I have always found Trevor Phillips, when expressing his views, to be the epitome of refreshing common sense.

In his latest declaration he points out that there have been instances of organisations failing to act for fear of offending minority groups and that, all too often, minority groups themselves suffer as a consequence.

His willingness to comment frankly on such matters is refreshing. For various anti-racism organisations to suggest that Mr Phillips has “lost touch with reality” is ironic. Somebody has certainly lost touch with reality, but it is not Trevor Phillips.

David Shewring
Penarth, Vale of Glamorgan


Workers’ rights in the UAE

Your leading article on 12 March (“Show some respect: Abu Dhabi is shamed by its treatment of workers”) is right to acknowledge the United Arab Emirates’ investment in Britain. It is also reciprocated: British businesses are welcome to invest in the UAE, and do so. Your claim however that the UAE’s record on labour rights is “appalling” is unfair. As an expanding and stable economy in a troubled area, the UAE is a highly attractive destination for international business and labour.

More importantly, the UAE has taken several steps to improve conditions for migrant workers of which your article took no account. These include regulations protecting the rights of workers in labour disputes and access to effective legal remedies, as well as the right of workers to move from one job to another without time limitations.

They also include a wage protection system, which has been praised by the International Labour Organisation; minimum standards for the accommodation of those workers, laid down by a law which came into force at the end of last year; and, in Abu Dhabi, mandatory health insurance for workers at employers’ expense.

To address the problem of abuse by recruitment agencies, the UAE has instituted a dialogue with workers’ countries of origin. The framework adopted by the developers of the Saadiyat Cultural District on conditions and protections for workers has set a new standard in the region.

We are open to constructive criticism, and indeed discuss regularly with the UN and the international community what further steps we could take to improve workers’ rights and conditions. Your article, however, failed to do us justice.

Abdulrahman Ghanem Al Mutaiwee
Embassy of the United Arab Emirates
London SW7


A truly British national bird

Further to David Lindo’s shortlist of 10 suitable “national birds” (16 March), surely the one to choose is a bird endemic to the British Isles and not found elsewhere, which inhabits everywhere within the  isles and is commonly seen by the population  at large. May I suggest  the distinctive pied  wagtail? 

Collins’ pocket Book of Birds says this bird “breeds throughout the British Isles from the city centre to the remotest Scottish glen, almost invariably near human habitation and often near water, nesting in such varied sites as farm buildings, pollarded trees, sea cliffs and stone dykes”.

I believe there are about 470,000 breeding pairs of these birds here.

Too many of Mr Lindo’s list spend a good part of the year elsewhere than in these islands (like tax exiles) or are found in other countries or only inhabit selected or smallish parts of this realm. Not what I call truly national birds.

David Ashton
Shipbourne, Kent


Politics that stifles good ideas

I had a very depressing conversation with a Conservative councillor at the weekend.

It was my own fault really. I’d challenged him as to why, not two months after the local elections, Conservative councillors had failed to support a proposal in a council meeting to restore street cleaning after bin collection, a key part of their own election manifesto. They hadn’t supported it, even to allow a debate, because it had been proposed by the borough’s Lib Dem councillor, Cllr Jeanes.

The Conservative councillor told me that they hadn’t supported it because they didn’t want to “validate” her. He added “our job isn’t to back Cllr Jeanes”. 

No, your job isn’t to “back” Cllr Jeanes or anyone else; your job as a councillor is to do right by your constituents, and to stand for your own manifesto.

Perhaps I just have an old fashioned view, or am too naive, but I actually think a good idea’s a good idea no matter who proposes it.

Anthony Fairclough
Vice-chair, London Liberal Democrats
London SW19


Gang rape: the forgotten factor

The cause of the gang-rape murder of the medical student Jyoti Singh Panday is not mysterious, but something is forgotten in many discussions of the case (“How can a man rape a woman and then say it’s her fault?”, 14 March).

Mukesh Singh accuses the victim of causing the crime. He says this with the bland righteousness of someone expecting agreement or approval. If this is not enough to convince us of the deep misogyny in Indian culture, the defence lawyers express almost identical views.

But while the principal cause is obvious, let it not be forgotten that the murderers spent the hours before the crime deliberately getting drunk. Drink played a very active role, as it does in so many crimes of violence, not least in the UK, where drunken escapades are recounted with nationalistic pride.

Claudia Cotton
London N7

Miliband falls into a Tory trap

The Scots vote to remain part of the Union makes the Scottish Nationalists as legitimate a British political party as, say, the DUP. So whether or not they might form a coalition with Labour is a non-issue.

Labour has fallen into a Tory trap where it has become an issue, and detracts from more important things, such as whether we wish to vote for George Osborne’s plan to annihilate the post-war settlement.

Michael Rosenthal
Banbury, Oxfordshire