Mourning the Pope should be left to faithful, The terminally ill and others

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The mourning of the Pope should be left to the faithful

The mourning of the Pope should be left to the faithful

Sir: Non-Catholics should not be involved in the circus of mediatised mourning currently surrounding the Pope's death.

The Vatican should not be treated as a country. It is merely the headquarters of one of the largest religions on the planet. World leaders, even from secular or Protestant countries, are obliged to honour the death of this pseudo head of state. Will similar homage be paid, one wonders, on the passing of the stateless Dalai Llama?

Glowing tributes always seem to be paid to those who die, with the bad bits edited out. John Paul II held strict views on contraception. He discouraged people from using condoms, which help stop the spread of Aids, and could have saved millions of lives. Moreover, the Pope's message was one of exclusion for gay people, women wishing to be ordained, and the victims of rape who have been denied abortions.

The death of a terminally ill octogenarian is no doubt upsetting to the faithful. For the rest of us, we should focus on the future and hope that a more tolerant, liberal and non-sovereign Pope emerges from conclave.

London W3

Sir: I'm puzzled that so many millions of people prayed for the Pope during his last few days. After all, it's not as if he was in need of anything. He had the best medical care that money can buy, the satisfaction of having led a full and fruitful life, and a religious faith that allowed him to face death with complete serenity in the expectation of eternal life.

Surely those in the world more deserving of the prayers of millions are the children dying premature deaths, from starvation or from easily curable diseases, without any medical care, in poverty, in squalor, in loneliness and abject terror.

Or have I got it wrong, and is prayer more about satisfying the emotional needs of the person doing it than the needs of the person prayed for?

Tonbridge, Kent

The terminally ill will welcome this Bill

Sir: I am delighted to read the report of the Select Committee on the draft Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill ("Legal ban on assisted suicides to face review", 5 April). This is a momentous report, which I welcome as a citizen of the UK, as a nurse and a lecturer in healthcare ethics.

It is clear from the evidence submitted to the Select Committee that the current law causes unbearable suffering for a significant number of terminally ill patients who want assistance to die. The British Medical Association, the National Council for Palliative Care and Macmillan Cancer Relief recognise that good quality palliative care does not meet every patient's needs at the end of their life. The law also fails to respect the autonomy of the terminally ill patients.

Evidence collected from overseas by the Select Committee shows that assisted dying laws work, and are safer at regulating end-of-life medical practice than relying on the criminal law. In the Netherlands and the state of Oregon in the USA, their laws have given patients greater choice and significant reassurance at the end of their lives. Contrary to speculation, these laws have been successful in protecting vulnerable members of society. There is no evidence of a "slippery slope".

Without a change in the law, I fear that assisted dying will continue to take place in secret in the UK, unregulated, and terminally ill patients will continue to travel overseas to seek assistance to die.

Senior Lecturer
London South Bank University
London SE1

Sir: I welcome the Select Committee's report on the Assisted Dying for Terminally Ill Bill.

I am especially interested because I am the 14-year-old son of a mother who has tested positive for the faulty gene that causes the terminal illness Huntington's Disease ( HD). HD is a relentless, cruel, degenerative illness. My mum will go from being fit and well to being bedridden and needing 24-hour nursing care. As it is hereditary there is a 50-50 chance that I have inherited the faulty gene too.

The law needs to be changed so that she can have the choice to die with dignity, in her own home, surrounded by family and friends. She should not be forced to travel to a sympathetic foreign country or take her own life early on in the illness while she is still able to do so. If she asked anyone to help her they could be in prison for 14 years, criminalised for being compassionate.

The current law doesn't make sense in a so-called civilised society. Medical science advances all the time, and more and more people are going to face the decisions my mother does.


Sir: The Lord's Select Committee report on the Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill has just been delivered. It has all the necessary safeguards to ensure that only the terminally ill whose wishes have been made quite clear would be accepted to have their lives terminated to prevent further and unnecessary suffering. It has been shown in several surveys and confirmed in a recent one carried out by NOP that 82 per cent of respondents supported a change in the law in favour of euthanasia. This was also true of 81 per cent of Protestant and Catholic respondents to the survey.

During the Bill's passage through the Lord's Committee Stage there has been a shift from opposition to one of neutrality by many of the Royal Colleges of Medicine and others. Evidence indicates this is largely due to a growing respect for patient autonomy on the part of the medical profession.

My late wife had known for seven years that her condition was terminal and on entry to the hospice where she eventually died it was estimated she had two to three weeks to live. At this time she stated she wished to die as soon as possible. But, of course, she was required to suffer to the bitter end to serve no useful purpose: only to satisfy those in opposition to euthanasia.

My late wife would never have expected to dictate to others on such matters, and believed the same respect should have been accorded to her. It is a disgrace that in a civilised society those such as my wife should be denied the choice of ending their suffering with dignity and at a time appropriate to them, merely in order to satisfy the beliefs of others.


Postal vote fraud

Sir: While postal voting was introduced to encourage greater numbers of people to vote (leading article, 5 April), the susceptibility to fraud of such a system far outweighs any advantages that are to be gained by any perceived increase in turnout.

If a greater participation in the democratic process is the desired objective, then a shift away from negative campaigning and vendetta-style politics would not only foster greater confidence in the process of political representation, but would also achieve the desired affect of persuading more people to cast their vote.

Cranham, Essex

Sir: If electoral fraud in Birmingham using postal votes is assumed to show that the use of postal votes should be curtailed, does fraud in Northern Ireland using traditional turn-up-in-person voting mean that that too should be curtailed?

Postal voting makes voting more possible for shift workers, people without cars and people with children to care for - which is why some people dislike it and why democrats need to defend it while pushing for better security measures.

Waverton, Cheshire

Trams lead the way

Sir: In your report "MPs condemn 'poor planning' of trams" (5 April), you say Manchester Metrolink was the only UK tram system to beat its passenger forecasts last year - this is not so.

Nottingham Express Transit, which celebrated its first anniversary last month, carried well over 8.2m passengers in its first year - above target. It is also helping to reduce congestion by attracting 5,000 people a day to Park & Ride sites.

It is also worth noting that the Transport Select Committee investigating tram development, which reported its findings shortly before the Public Accounts Committee, accepted that "there is ample evidence light rail offers high quality, accessible, urban transport that is comparable in whole system costs to high quality bus systems, and is more likely to achieve modal shift from cars, reduce congestion and assist regeneration than any other urban mass transit system currently available".

The Committee recognised that features such as Park & Ride, close involvement of the planning authorities, and segregation from/priority over traffic are needed for a successful tram system. There is a future for tram systems in the UK and Nottingham points the way forward.

NET Project Leader
Nottingham City Council

Exxon challenge

Sir: ExxonMobil may soon find that it is having to cope with far more than awkward resolutions at its AGM ("Green activists to challenge ExxonMobil on Kyoto stance", 4 April).

The World Trade Organisation endorses the concept of sustainable development and, under WTO rules, member countries can theoretically ban the import of products that are produced in an unsustainable way. Thus, during Clinton's presidency, the US banned the import of shrimps from Malaysia that had been caught in nets that were harmful to turtles, and because turtles are an endangered species, and because they migrate through US waters, Malaysia lost its case before the Appellant Body of the World Trade Organisation.

Emissions of carbon dioxide also transgress national boundaries and exert environmental effects that are unsustainable and impact directly on member countries. There is nothing to stop the EU, or any country, from introducing trade sanctions against the US due to its non-compliance with the Kyoto Protocol on global warming.

The environmental irresponsibility of companies such as ExxonMobil would then be properly reflected in their balance sheets.

Stoke Poges

Asbos are effective

Sir: The Independent is, of course, perfectly entitled to criticise anti-social behaviour measures (leading article, 2 April). However, I was disappointed to see these criticisms appear in the name of a Home Affairs Committee report which was only published on 5 April and which reaches precisely the opposite conclusion from your leading article in virtually every respect.

As the report makes clear, the Committee heard substantial evidence that criticisms of Asbos and other measures are overstated, that such measures are still comparatively rare responses to anti-social behaviour and that overall, the balance between prevention and enforcement in the Government's anti-social behaviour strategy is about right.

Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee
House of Commons
London SW1

The doggerel of war

Sir: Before the invasion of Iraq I published an article in your sister Sunday paper explaining why such an attack would be illegal in international law in the absence of a specific Security Council resolution. As events have unfolded, reason and outrage seem to have had limited impact. At least we are left with mockery. So, here is my contribution to the bad verse contest now that you have let slip the doggerel of war:
The Attorney went into reverse;
His reasons lamentably terse.
We went to war
On a page of A4
A process you might think perverse

Bar Human Rights Committee
18 Red Lion Court
London EC4

20th century greats

Sir: Your correspondent Peter Furtado (letter, 5 April) suggests Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela should be on Bruce Anderson's list of "the five greatest figures of the 20th century" (Opinion, 4 April). What, too, of the possible claims of Eisenhower, J F Kennedy, Lloyd George, Mother Teresa, Aung San Suu Kyi and Mikhail Gorbachev, if we are defining "great" in the sense of positive contributions to the present and future of humankind?

Pontypool, Wales

Sir: From a North-east, working-class background my list of the five greatest figures of the 20th century is rather different to Bruce Anderson's: Brigitte Bardot, for showing that women did not all wear pinnies and turbans and smoke Woodbines, a huge relief on 1950s Teesside; Brian Clough, for showing that footballers can possess, simultaneously, grace, strength and eloquence; Jenny Lee, for making university education possible, through the OU, to many thousands who would not otherwise have qualified; Mohammed Ali, for being the greatest athlete who ever lived; Federico Fellini, for introducing a new dimension of delight to film.


The price of beer

Sir: I fear your reporter, Rose George, had been over-indulging in her subject matter when calculating the price per bottle Oettinger beer sells for in German supermarkets ("Not posh or Beck's", 5 April). By my calculations the cost is 20p per bottle and not the 5p she stated.

Newcastle Upon Tyne

Spelling headaches

Sir: One you left out of the list ("100 ideas that changed the world", 4 April); the spell checker. It would have saved us from "asprin".

Witton-le-Wear, County Durham