Medical ethics, Climate of fear and others

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Doctors must carry the responsibility for ending a life

Doctors must carry the responsibility for ending a life

Sir: I was very moved and troubled by Christine Aziz's article about difficulties making a decision whether to take her dying brother off a life machine in intensive care (23 November). Medical ethics guidance makes clear that a relative should never be asked to make such a decision on behalf of another unconscious adult: ultimately the senior doctor looking after the patient has this responsibility, though he has a duty to explore the views of all involved parties and to take them into account. Legally this is the position too.

The importance of talking to relatives is emphasised; however what should be sought from them is not their individual views of what should happen, but rather any knowledge they have of what the patient would want for himself or herself. In the past the medical profession have sometimes forgotten this, and now the legal and ethical position is too often misunderstood.

It is utterly unreasonable to ask someone to live with the memory of ending the life of someone they love.

Consultant Anaesthetist
The Great Western Hospital, Swindon

Climate of fear puts freedoms at risk

Sir: The current climate of fear spilling over from the US to the UK is reminiscent of the millennium bug fears. The only people that really benefit from collective paranoia are people within the security business fraternity, the main beneficiaries in this case being private security firms, arms dealers and manufacturers of surveillance devices. That is where government money is being wasted instead of being spent on tackling xenophobia in schools or increasing environmental and cross-cultural awareness.

Biometrics and ID cards are mere diversions from the real problems rooted in the wanton exploitation of poverty-stricken nations whose oil-enriched and corrupt governments continue to suppress basic human freedoms.


Sir: Given this new round of Bills announcing a strict tightening of national security and hardline police activity I cannot help but assume that George Orwell's 1984 is bedtime reading for several Cabinet members at the moment.

The real concern however is that the Government and right-wing media have probably done enough scaremongering to ensure Labour stay in power next year, and a large portion of the population believe this round of Bills is a good thing. Usually I'd laugh at a typically sweeping statement from John Prescott claiming the public are ready to accept restrictions on individual freedom for the sake of improved safety, but in this instance I kept a straight face. He's probably right.

The Wirral

Sir: Terrorism (and the clue is in the name) relies on people being scared. The best way to combat that? Accept what life throws at you. The chances of being killed in a terrorist incident are smaller than dying getting out of bed.

It is not worth surrendering our civil liberties. By doing so, we are surrendering the very thing we are supposed to be protecting. Don't be scared. Don't let the Government sell our society down the river. Fight terror by living as free people.


'Crisis' over Iran

Sir: Academics working in British universities in the field of Iranian studies, we wish to express our deep concern at what appears to be a determination by the Bush administration to generate an international crisis over Iran. It is our fear that, having generated such an artificial and unnecessary crisis, the US will then embark on a doomed military "solution" in which it will seek to involve the British government and armed forces.

We wish to state in the strongest possible terms our opposition to the American neoconservative strategy towards Iran. In the light of the continuing political and humanitarian crises in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is clear that any extension of western military intervention in the region, whether limited air strikes or a full-scale attack, would be disastrous for the Iranian people, for the populations of the wider region, and for the US and Britain.

We urgently call on the British government, while it is still possible to influence the course of events, to join with our European and international allies and with global public opinion to oppose any new, and surely even more disastrous, military adventure in the Middle East.

University College, Northampton and SOAS

Royal Holloway, University of London

University of Oxford

Royal Holloway, University of London


University of St Andrews.

London Metropolitan University
London WC1

Iraq's insurgents

Sir: Pablo Behrens (letter, 24 November) is absolutely right to say that insurgencies are always started by militant minorities and he cites an impressive list of examples. Yet closer examination indicates that the rebellions cited have one thing in a common. They were all uprisings against colonial or authoritarian regimes denying human rights and democratic representation to the vast majority of their citizens and as soon as a process was established leading towards democracy, the militancy ceased.

In Northern Ireland and South Africa, for example, militant activity virtually ended when Sinn Fein and the ANC respectively were brought into the political process and peaceful paths were established towards ending oppression, which is precisely the action taken by the militant Shias in Southern Iraq who have forsaken the bullet for the ballot.

The insurgency in the Sunni triangle isn't like that. Certainly there is an occupying power and an interim government cynically viewed as puppets of the Americans. But the occupiers removed one of the worst tyrants of the latter part of the 20th century and the interim government is now working towards free and fair elections that are supported by the Shia, the Kurds and the majority of Sunnis, and a constitution that will guarantee the basic human rights of all Iraqis.

The insurgents have been invited to participate in this process but the establishment of a democratic and peaceful Iraq is anathema to them and they are committed to derailing it. They are not to be compared to the liberation movements in Mr Behrens' examples.

Poulton, Gloucestershire

Monarchy and merit

Sir: One thing Prince Charles and those supporting his comments have overlooked is that Elaine Day (the former personal assistant in his household) never suggested that the highest posts should be open to all, irrespective of ability, effort and qualification. What she did suggest was that personal assistants with university degrees should be allowed to train to be private secretaries, the people in charge of day-to-day running in the Royal Household, ie managers.

I think I would not be far wrong in assuming that private secretaries currently are all men, with a public school/Oxbridge background and maybe a spell as army officers before joining Prince Charles's entourage. Clearly, a personal assistant, almost certainly a woman with a state school, non-Oxbridge university background and a degree in, say, French and Business Studies, extensive computer skills and experience of working for, say, the EU Commission, would certainly not fit in to such a post and can only be a nuisance with her experience of the real world.

Ripon, North Yorkshire

Sir: With an increasing number of students getting more and more academic qualifications, and at higher and higher grades, the British education system is creating expectations which cannot be satisfied by the limited number of jobs which really require high-fliers. Moreover, we are making people less and less able to cope, since they have less experience of being unsuccessful (such as through failing the odd O-level, as I did).

Perhaps the policy of exam passes for all is not actually helpful to everyone in the end; rather, we should find ways of encouraging people to enjoy and be respected for doing those useful jobs in society such as builders and plumbers, of whom there never seem to be enough.

London SE19

Sir: Dr Noel Cox appears to think that typists should not aspire to policy analysis (letter, 20 November). My wife, then a typist, found that her employer had the same views. She then obtained a degree and a postgraduate diploma. She is now better qualified than her former employer (and Charles Windsor). She was the first of her family to go to university. If she had accepted her place then I suppose she would still be licking the boots of those who hold Victorian views of the role of women. Thank God for meritocracy. Now apply it to the monarchy.

Taipei, Taiwan

Straw's memories

Sir: I can appreciate a good joke. For instance, the Foreign Secretary has had me in stitches with his side-splitting impersonation of an old Stalinist hack. I almost expected him to end his letter (23 November) with a call for the Trotsky-Fascist mad dogs (not forgetting the Zinovievites and Bukharinists) to be liquidated immediately.

I am also tickled by his apparent obsession with "false consciousness". Would this by any chance be related to the "false consciousness" that leads you to believe that Iraq was armed to the teeth with dangerous weapons that could be launched within 45 minutes?

London N16

Sir: Jack Straw's attack of nostalgia for the days when he used to read Lenin's works on leftism and Trotskyism reminds me of the days when he was President of National Union of Students and many of his Communist Party supporters thought it a jolly wheeze to sport ice-pick badges to display their anti-Trostkyite feelings.

Some people thought it offensive and tasteless to invoke Stalin's terror campaign against oppositionists of any kind as a part of internal disputes in a student body. As Jack Straw says, no sense of humour these ultra-leftists!

Southport, Merseyside

Hunt protests backfire

Sir: You say that the Government will be unhappy at the prospect of a general election "complete with ugly mass demonstrations of the sort the Countryside Alliance has mounted outside Parliament in recent months" (leading article, 19 November). On the contrary, I would expect them to be delighted at the prospect.

As the object of five demonstrations by the pro-hunting lobby since mid-September, several of them televised and the last of them outside my own home, I have enjoyed a new wave of support and sympathy. Just one example is the following letter: "As someone who is basically a Conservative voter I would like to say how much I admire your stance over the proposed hunting ban. I am intensely irritated by the assertion that countryside dwellers are against the ban. The Countryside Alliance does not speak for everyone who lives in rural areas. ... Thank you for sticking to your convictions."

I have no doubt that the dead horse left outside the Labour Conference this year has played its part in Labour's recent rise in the opinion polls. They must be relishing the thought of more such demonstrations in the middle of an election.

(Newbury, Lib Dem)
House of Commons

Sir: What happened to the Countryside Alliance's campaign against the closure of rural schools, post offices, bus routes, etc? At the time of the big rally in London they swelled their ranks with all sorts of people on the back of their claims to represent the countryside as a whole, but seem to have reverted to being a single-issue group now the protesters have served their purpose.

Edgware, Middlesex

To never split

Sir: Your correspondents have been discussing the split infinitive. An exceptionally fastidious American editor once commented on a manuscript of mine: "Never in my life have I come across so many relentlessly fused infinitives."


Antisocial flights

Sir: In September the London Borough of Camden won a landmark ruling whereby antisocial behaviour orders were granted against the managing director and two employees of a company responsible for fly-posting in Camden. Could this useful tool not be used against one example of a most intrusive and distressing antisocial behaviour, that of BAA's policy of allowing aircraft flights at night? By allowing and profiting from night flights BAA has caused great distress to the people whose sleep and wellbeing is disturbed. This appears to me to be a clear case of antisocial behaviour.

Richmond, Surrey

American 'ough'

Sir: The correspondence about the variant pronunciations of "-ough" illustrates how we delight in confusing foreigners, but Americans make valuable distinctions. They dunk donuts, plow the prairie, suffer from hiccups, write thru and tho and end their towns with -burg rather than -borough. However, let us preserve the full spelling of "cough": In the theatre and concert hall we can all recognise its anglo-Saxon guttural ending.

Thurlton, Norfolk

Famously obscure

Sir: Perhaps Philip Hensher (Opinion, 24 November) should organise a competition to find the country's least-known celebrity.

London W1