Terminal illness, Blunkett and others

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The Independent Online

Taboo on death infringes rights of terminally ill patients

Sir: The case of Leslie Burke (report, 26 February) I find pertinent to my own situation, but not just yet! I am recovering from an operation that removed an oesophageal cancer. I have recently been given the "all clear" and my chances of surviving for five years or more are about 70 per cent. However, it is likely that in the end the cancer will return. I have no idea where or when it will happen. What concerns me is how the end will come.

When it does I will not seek desperate remedies in trying to prolong my life by a few months. Once my condition is terminal I would want to end my life quickly and painlessly. Unfortunately, in this country no one will be able to assist me to die. Whenever the topic of assisted suicide is raised, the argument against it always seems to be that the victim will be coerced into agreeing to die. Safeguards against this are simply disregarded. Death, natural or assisted, is still a taboo. Yet death is inevitable. It's just a question of timing.

The result sought by this case is that a patient will receive the medical treatment they demand. In this case to prolong life, but it could also be taken to include treatment to shorten the lifespan of the patient. Why can't a doctor prescribe drugs for a patient to take to kill themselves? Is it because we still believe anyone wanting to kill themselves must be mentally disturbed? Is suicide still a sin?

In my time in hospital I saw a patient receiving treatment and requiring 24-hour care because the relatives were determined to keep him alive. The patient was unable to do anything but open and close his eyes. What thoughts he had I have no knowledge. However, I do know I don't want to end my days in that condition and I won't, but that could mean taking my own life while I am able.

We live in a secular society and through medical advances need to make decisions which are difficult and painful, but which some people prefer not to make, yet seek to deny others the right to do so. It all comes down to fear of death. I am not scared of dying: it's living in a condition over which I have no control that scares me.

London SW15

Sir: It would be unfair to represent Leslie Burke's reported fight for the "right to live" as differing from the struggle, faced by many, to exercise the "right to die". The issue is one of the right to choose how your life ends, in a way that reflects your own values and beliefs. The widespread use, and recognition of "advance directives" would enable both Leslie and those wishing to exercise the "right to die", to do so, and would release medical staff from this dilemma. It would also deservedly marginalise those "anti-euthanasia campaigners", who have no interest in respecting individual choice.


Blunkett misses the point of the Crown

Sir: The Government proposes changing the name of the Crown Prosecution Service to the Public Prosecution Service. Ignoring the patronising way that Mr Blunkett told us that this was to help the public "understand" better, I have grave concerns about it.

The point of the Crown in our constitutional monarchy is that justice is served by impartial organisations loyal to a non-political monarch. This insulates the administration of law from popular opinions, the pressures of publicity and actions designed to help re-elect a government. Calling it "Public" instead gives a strong message to civil servants - that they are there to serve the popular will, never mind if it is correct or legal or not.

What will this lead to? More of the type of thing currently suggested by New Labour, different rules for immigrants, an erosion of our ancient rights in the name of populism and the ruination of our strongest asset, the impartial and non-political rule of law. I hope that Parliament does its job and makes it clear to Mr Blunkett that he has gone too far.

Tenterden, Kent

Sir: With each new revelation over Iraq, and with each new attack by Blair and Blunkett upon our civil liberties and democratic safeguards, I am increasingly coming to believe that the UK's most dangerous enemies can be found in 10 Downing Street and the Home Office.

In your recent editorials you have questioned the honesty and wisdom of this government. You have raised questions about Downing Street's integrity in respect of the invasion of Iraq. You have condemned David Blunkett's illiberal words and deeds. However, you have always refrained from suggesting that either Blair or Blunkett might be deliberately acting against this country's interests. Regrettably, I feel no such confidence. The sustained attacks upon our individual freedoms and the very concepts of justice and democracy, fronted by Blunkett, but clearly with the full support of Blair, show both men to be instinctive totalitarians.

You condemn their curtailment of individual liberty as over-hasty and misjudged panic responses to a perceived threat of terrorism. I rather suspect that they may be trying to create a general fear of terrorism in order to impose a legal system and security network more appropriate for a police state than a healthy democracy. War makes it easier for a nation's rulers to remove democratic checks and balances, while accusing critics of being "unpatriotic".

Never trust a politician who says, "Trust me".

Farnham, Surrey

Roots of the blues

Sir: The idea that the blues was simply pop music is nonsense ("Black women's blues", 2 March). The range of the blues is so broad that it encompasses the classic blues of Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey, the rural Delta blues of Charley Patton, Tommy Johnson and Robert Johnson, the slick urban humour of Leroy Carr and Georgia Tom Dorsey and the indisputably folky repertoire of Leadbelly.

Equally laughable is the idea that historians and music fans have placed blues musicians in some sort of folk pantheon headed by Hank Williams and Woody Guthrie. If anything, those musicians regarded the blues players as their mentors. Hank Willams was famously influenced by a street blues musician, Rufus Payne (known as "Tee -Tot" ), and Woody Guthrie proudly played the college circuit with Leadbelly and the folk blues duo Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee.

Although much of the blues was popular music, and was purveyed by forgotten artists such as Peetie Wheatstraw ("The Devil's Son-In-Law"), it was also in its raw form a folk music driven by emotion. If you want to see the folk roots of the blues, go back to the Delta plantations such as Dockery's, which alone was home to Charley Patton, Howlin' Wolf and Pops Staples - a trio that by themselves could exemplify the depth and variety of the music.

London NW5

Massacres in Iraq

Sir: As an Iraqi living in Britain, I am deeply angered, shocked and saddened by the massacres which took place in Baghdad and the holy city of Karbala on Tuesday when cowardly terrorists killed 182 innocent civilians who were commemorating the religious occasion of Ashura for the first time since 1977, as it was banned by the regime of Saddam Hussein.

In defiance of the terrorists, who are trying to create instability and sectarian strife, the people bravely carried on the Ashura rituals. It is obvious that the terrorist tactic to create civil war is failing, since the Iraqis are more united than ever in their resolve to rebuild their country and return to normality after 23 years of oppression under the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein and his Tikriti clan.

Darwin College, Cambridge

Sir: Maybe I missed all the calls for a minute's silence in memory of those who lost their lives in occupied Iraq on Tuesday. One can be sure that Parliament, schools, hospitals, offices etc would be observing such a ritual had the lives lost been those of Americans or Britons.


Vote for America

Sir: As an American supporter of President Bush I am honoured to have Rupert Cornwell take such an avid interest in the outcome of our upcoming election ("The Candidate", 4 March). I further appreciate his assessment that "if the human race as a whole ... could cast a ballot ... John Kerry would surely win the presidency by a landslide".

It seems to me that Mr Cornwell misses the point. Most of the human race not only cannot cast a ballot in the US election - they are unable to cast a ballot in their own nations! It is just this sort of self-determination President Bush has advocated and fought for in the course of his presidency.

Once the human race as a whole is able to cast ballots in free elections if they wish to choose between John Kerry and President Bush I say "Bring it on!"

Simi Valley, California, USA

Sir: Rupert Cornwell is absolutely right. I'm sure that if Osama bin Laden, Mullah Omar and Yasser Arafat could vote in the US election they would vote for Senator Kerry.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA

Sir: How sadly uninformed is the human race!

Loomis, California, USA

Migrants in the NHS

Sir: Your front page of 2 March highlighted the contribution that migrants make in the NHS and many other sectors of the economy. But you are wrong to say this is something the Government keeps quiet about. Last November you congratulated the Home Secretary on his speech setting out the benefits of migration and reiterating the approach set out in our white paper two years ago.

To meet the needs of employers we have increased work permits from over 44,000 in 1997 to over 137,000 in 2003. We have also opened up legal routes for highly skilled migrants and low-skilled sectors experiencing recruitment difficulties. However, it is only through gaining public trust by tackling abuse of the asylum system that we can make the case for a regulated but flexible system of migrant labour.

Minister of State
Home Office

Sir: I asked the Home Office to reveal the numbers of work permits given to foreign healthcare workers not to make a crass political point that they are not welcome but to point out that Government needs to do more to recruit and retain home-grown talent and to uncover the number of medical staff poached from developing countries whose needs are even greater than our own (in 2003: Zimbabwe 2,974; Nigeria 1,510; China 1,068; Pakistan 964; Bulgaria 787; Ghana 850).

The Government says that they only use NHS recruitment agencies that sign up to their Code of Practice (i.e. agree not to recruit nurses from developing countries with whom we do not have a bilateral agreement). A year ago, the Government was able to tell us that around 40 per cent of recruitment agencies of which it was aware had not signed up to the Code of Practice. However, when asked for an update, they now state that they do not hold a list of these agencies and therefore could not answer the question.

This will not do. The Department of Health must ban the NHS from using recruitment agencies that do not sign up to the code, rather than letting it remain voluntary.

Shadow Health Minister
House of Commons

Musical Prince

Sir: On return from an overseas visit, my attention was drawn to Michael Church's informative article "A composer fit for a queen" (11 February). I must, however, take issue with him when he says "nobody in the Royal Family gives a damn about music".

Prince Charles is President of the Royal College of Music and Patron of the Bach Choir and English Chamber Orchestra. I have had close relationships with all three of these, and can testify as to the close, knowledgeable and very valuable interest which the Prince takes in each one. In addition, the Prince played the 'cello, is a genuine music lover, and is also much involved in other prestigious musical organisations such as the Royal Opera House, the Philharmonia Orchestra and Music in Country Churches.

London W8

Love is optional

Sir: Those who oppose same-sex marriages (letters, 28 February, 4 March) are implicitly admitting marriage is just about what sort of genitals are involved. Love, commitment and duty are nice but not essential.


Spring in the air

Sir: Now that the mornings are lighter it is a joy to be walking my dogs through the quite lanes of Shropshire at 6.30am. Against a clear blue sky this morning I counted 15 vapour trails going east, the "red eyes" from New York and beyond. In the months following 9/11 I would struggle to count three or four. Does this presage a good spring?


Old Labour

Sir: You report that the unions are worried that taxpayer funding for political parties would be used by Blairite modernisers to dilute their influence. What influence is that?

Selby, North Yorkshire

Polytheists left out

Sir: Why should the form of words of the new oath of allegiance only offer monotheistic or secular options, when neither would be appropriate for many of those taking it.

Bridport, Dorset