Letters: Views on assisted suicide

Views on assisted suicide change as one ages
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The Independent Online

I read Amy Jenkins's ruminations on assisted suicide (1 August) with some interest. It took me back to when I was relatively young, in my late thirties and early forties. We had very good friends then – and they still are very good friends – who would assert at dinner parties that they would never be a burden to their children. It was a time when we were beginning to be beset by the ills of our parents. "I would rather top myself" and similar phrases reverberated round the dinner table.

It is now 30-something years later, and we are all 30-something years older and our parents are all dead (of natural causes). We still have dinner parties with the same friends but there is no mention of suicide, even though we all have the ills which occur in old age and our friends, like us, could be described as being a burden to their children.

I am reminded of a short story I once read (whose author's name I have forgotten) about a young man who was so entranced by a village in Italy that he liquidated all his assets and struggled to buy a 40-year annuity. This enabled him to live a simple life in his chosen place by renting a room and having just enough left over for food and other necessities.

"After all," he reasoned, while still in his 20s, "when I am in my 60s I shall have had 40 years of the perfect life and will be ready to end it all." Alas, when his annuity stopped he was in his mid-60s and of quite a different view.

M J Cooper

Hedgerley, Buckinghamshire

Bruce Anderson is free to attack the Archbishop of Canterbury, if he thinks it makes good copy (Opinion, 3 August). What he should not do is write palpable falsehoods. Far from being too impenetrable, or too busy, Rowan Williams has spoken out, clearly and repeatedly, against legalising assisted suicide, and in defence of the vulnerable, including alongside the Archbishop of Westminster and Chief Rabbi. They might even yet be heard.

Fr Patrick Morrow

St Matthew's camberwell, London SE5

Johnson must act in McKinnon case

Gary McKinnon's supporters fear that the hacker could take his own life if sent to the US, and it has been admitted that he could readily be prosecuted in the UK for his crimes (report, 1 August). Given these factors, it is impossible for Home Secretary Alan Johnson to sit on his hands any longer. As the leaders of both opposition parties have repeatedly urged, justice and common humanity demand he halt this shameful circus.

True, Mr Johnson inherited this mess from previous home secretaries, who all lazily rubber-stamped the US's hawkish extradition requests for McKinnon, a misguided soul whose crimes were committed while searching for proof of the existence of "little green men".

But Johnson's handling of McKinnon's case over the past month has been characterised by incompetence and cowardice. The High Court has signalled loud and clear that it is now up to politicians to intervene. That means halting McKinnon's extradition so he can be tried and, if found guilty, jailed in the country where the crimes took place, and where he can receive the support of his family.

It is time for Mr Johnson to prove he is not just a hack politician and end this affront to British justice now.

Andrew Prieditis

Elland, West Yorkshire

The Americans have got Gary McKinnon out of perspective. If someone, from their bedroom, can hack into the US's top-secret computer systems, he has done them a favour by exposing to them the weaknesses in their arrangements.

David Carter

Wakefield, West Yorkshire

Alan Johnson's refusal to intervene in the extradition of Gary McKinnon is yet another instance of the "special relationship" between the United States and Great Britain, one which may be compared to the relation between a dog and a tree.

All the rhetoric that says ministers should not interfere with judicial process fails to take into account the indisputable fact that the crime in question, if it is indeed a crime, was committed on British soil by a British subject, and thus one which should be prosecuted (if prosecution is in the public interest) in the UK. Has the US become so powerful that it can now require foreigners to obey its laws even when they are not within its jurisdiction?

Jeffry Kaplow

London SE3

It is the responsibility of the US security organisations to protect their computerised records. If a British citizen has gained access to supposedly secure sites, then so might a hostile body; Iranian intelligence for example.

Gary McKinnon has done the US a great service by revealing a weakness in its security and should be rewarded, not faced with potential imprisonment. This is provided, of course, that he co-operates with the US by revealing the techniques which he adopted to penetrate their defences.

Michael Oppenheim


Private schools' charitable status

The headmaster John Tranmer has got the wrong end of the stick (16 July) in criticising the appointment of Dame Suzi Leather to the Chair of the Charity Commission as being "a highly political appointment".

The Charity Commission's ruling that two of the schools "were not doing enough to justify their charitable status" (leading article, 14 July) was firmly based on the current law. Both under the previous law and under section 2 of the Charities Act 2006, the advancement of education counts as a charitable purpose. Under the previous law there was a presumption that the advancement of education was in itself a charitable purpose; this presumption no longer applies. Under section 3 of the Charities Act 2006 all charities must now prove that their activities are providing or will provide a benefit to the public. This is as it should be.

In mediaeval and Tudor times, benefactors endowed schools as charities in order to provide education to poor children in the community who could not otherwise afford it. Some may say that this is the antithesis of how our private schools operate.

David Ashton

Shipbourne, Kent

Grammar schools are not the issue; it is what they leave in their wake, call them "secondary modern" or "community" or what you will (letters, 31 July). These are schools filled with children who have been told at the age of 11 that they are not up to scratch. The pupils know it, their parents know it, their teachers know it, their employers will know it.

Before the war, such stagnation and negativity may have been tolerated, but in this day and age it is just wrong.

In a comprehensive school, children can be moved up and down the streams. If they are at the "wrong school" it is too late; at age 11. Any form of selection (academic or religious) in state-funded education is a smack in the face for opportunities.

Eleanor Dunne


British weather is not uniquely bad

Why is it that the media insist on bemoaning the British weather and the British summer? Anyone would think that we were the only nation in the world to have unpredictable weather.

A cursory look across the Channel would tell you that we share most of our weather with the northern third of France, with Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Scandinavia; in fact the rest of western Europe from the Alps northwards.

My last summertime trip to Paris was accompanied by leaden skies and unpredictable heavy showers; and I clearly remember a summer spent as a travel rep in the Dolomites in northern Italy where we had a heavy thunderstorm every afternoon at 3.30pm.

Don't be embarrassed about our weather: it's no better in the rest of Europe until you get much further south.

John Williams

Chichester, West Sussex

Cheap holidays at Christian camps

The child of an atheist father and Catholic mother, I spent three summers in my teens at Student Christian Movement camps. I went not for the religion, but for the cheap holiday, which I enjoyed. I also enjoyed the lively debates that were held on Christianity which helped me to make up my mind on religion and I left as an atheist.

I'm still baffled that people can believe, but learnt at those camps to respect the views of the religious so long as they don't try to impose them on others. If modern Christian camps are anything like those I attended, Richard Dawkins (letters, 30 July) can calm down.

Jan Cook

South Nutfield, Surrey

Jewish women free to divorce

To supplement Jerome Taylor's masterly survey of the Orthodox Jewish divorce procedures (1 August), it needs stressing that the civil law of this country is supreme and unassailable. Any woman who obtains a divorce in the civil courts is free to remarry, full stop.

Whether she wishes in addition to obtain a religious divorce, or annulment of a marriage that took place in a synagogue, from one of the several rabbinic courts in this country is entirely a matter for her and it does not affect her legal status or that of any children born of a subsequent union. With the plurality that now exists in Anglo Jewry, she has a choice of rabbinic courts to which she can turn, should she so wish.

Rabbi William Wolff

Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire

'Fascist' links of Polish MEP

Timothy Kirkhope MEP (letters, 31 July) writes to protest about my concern (Opinion, 30 July) about David Cameron's instruction to Tory MEPs to serve under the Polish MEP Michal Kaminski.

But the same day that his letter appeared, his fellow Yorkshire Tory MEP, Edward Macmillan Scott, wrote in the Yorkshire Post that Kaminski was "homophobic and had fascist links".

Mr Macmillan Scott, who is a true blue Tory of longstanding, argued further that "the rise of respectable fascism had to be stopped".

Rather than exchange points with me, Mr Kirkhope should talk to Mr Macmillan Scott and perhaps to David Cameron, as this Tory alliance with right-wing extremism is unprecedented in British political history.

Denis MacShane MP

House of Commons, London SW1

Hunt image problems

It isn't their image of being "toffs" that the Countryside Alliance needs to worry about ("Hunters are given training to change 'toff' image" 3 August), but the their image as barbarians. That, I suggest, is going to take bit more time and training to eradicate.

Irene Barker

Stowmarket, Suffolk

Same-sex weddings

I was pleased to read that the Quaker church has opted to extend religious blessings to same-sex weddings, and that they will call on the government to change the law, to allow Quaker registering officers to register same-sex partnerships in the same way as marriages (report, 31 July). Unitarian Churches have for many years provided religious blessings for same-sex relationships and there was overwhelming support for a 2008 motion calling for full equality in the eyes of the law between marriages of heterosexual and same-sex couples.

Rev Maud Robinson

Unitarians in Edinburgh

Tube closures

Not only are there Tube closures when West Ham United are playing at home to Tottenham and Liverpool (letters, 30 July), planners have also failed to take into account big crowds at O2 concerts, football crowds at the recent England international at Wembley and this week's Great British Beer Festival at Earl's Court. They have also planned an open day on the Bank Holiday weekend at Upminster depot, when part of the District line, including Upminster itself, is shut. If they can't plan their own events around track closures, then what price the Olympics?

Dave Keeley

Hornchurch, Essex

Milk memories

Harry Walker's letter (29 July) brought back many memories of school milk in the l930s – a daily third of a pint. In very cold weather we delighted in the "ice cream" that appeared when the frozen milk pushed the cardboard cap off. Confession time: there were occasions when Mr Fairs in the sweet shop opposite the school benefited from misappropriated milk money.

Mary Godden

Margate, Kent

Last words

Tom Sutcliffe (31 July) asks for examples of memorable last lines of books. I suggest Madame Bovary, "Il vient de recevoir la Croix d'Honneur" ("He has just been awarded the Cross of the Legion of Honour"), and Nineteen-Eighty-Four, "He loved Big Brother".

Carolyn Beckingham

Lewes, East Sussex