Letters: Any decision on assisted dying should not be made by clinicians alone

Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP Liam McArthur published his Assisted Dying for Terminally Ill Adults Bill on March 28
Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP Liam McArthur published his Assisted Dying for Terminally Ill Adults Bill on March 28 - Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
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SIR – Jonathan Sumption (Comment, March 29) has, it would seem, made up his formidable mind on the issue of assisted dying. He has decided that, in the case of terminal illness, a medical practitioner would be the appropriate person both to confirm the diagnosis and ascertain whether the patient’s decision to end their life is being made without coercion or undue influence.

However, whereas the first function is purely a medical matter, the second is not. The 1959 and 1983 Mental Health Acts ensured that doctors, including psychiatrists, shared the responsibility of deciding whether a person should be detained against their will. A mental welfare officer or an approved social worker was given the authority, having “interviewed the patient in a suitable manner”, to overrule on social grounds the purely clinical diagnosis.

Those of us who have discharged responsibilities under these Acts know what a conflict there can be between diagnosticians and those required by law to have a primary concern for the autonomy of the patient. GPs used to be trained in interview skills, and were proficient in ascertaining “presenting symptoms” from “underlying” ones. Unfortunately, these skills will be lost now that GPs conduct most of their interviews online or by telephone. However, I strongly believe that any decision to allow assisted dying should be a shared responsibility between clinicians and those with interviewing and counselling skills.

Paul Griffith
Caersws, Montgomeryshire

SIR – There needs to be a debate on assisted suicide, but it must include dementia. We are quite good at managing pain and the hospice movement is excellent, but what most people are afraid of is the pointless, lingering death of dementia.

In 2011 we had a referendum on proportional representation, but the choice was so limited it was meaningless. A choice on assisted suicide must include wider options, not just critical physical illness.

David Goodwin
Lewes, East Sussex

SIR – Reading Lord Sumption’s very clear analysis of the issues surrounding assisted dying, I came to a slightly different conclusion from his. If release from intolerable physical or mental suffering of the terminally ill is to be the justification for it, then surely a requirement should be certification by a designated expert medical panel that their suffering cannot be made tolerable by palliative care.

David Cockerham
Bearsted, Kent

SIR – From the age of 18 we are responsible for our lives and the outcomes of our actions. However, when it comes to old age we are not deemed able to be responsible for ourselves. Why is this so?

Diana Geraghty
Berkeley, Gloucestershire

Disillusioned voters

SIR – I’ve been a Conservative for perhaps 55 of my almost 70 years, yet I find myself in a quandary.

We have a Government that heavily taxes its citizens, yet the NHS is cumbersome and eye-wateringly expensive, and fails to provide basic services such as seeing a GP or finding a dentist. The Armed Forces lack support and money despite their challenging tasks. Regulatory bodies such as Ofgem and Ofwat are completely ineffective at protecting consumers. Illegal immigrants, misleadingly called asylum seekers, cost the country billions annually, and take resources away from those who are genuinely in need.

Yet, the alternative is a Labour Party that is in thrall to unions and migrants, and which historically has been even worse on taxes, the economy and wealth creation. Or a vote for Reform, which would almost certainly return a Labour government.

Nobody seems to have the guts or nous to fix difficult issues. I feel that it’s my duty to vote, but not a single party deserves it.

Brian Barbour
Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland

SIR – For anybody who was involved with Ukip, the huge support for Reform comes as no surprise (“Against all the odds, Reform UK has turned politics on its head. And it’s just the start”, Comment, March 30). There are many dissatisfied citizens who feel abandoned by the Tories.

Bring it on, I say. Only a new party can begin to address the problems the Conservatives have brought upon themselves. I say this with sadness and disappointment, but also with hope.

Rosy Drohan
Marksbury, Somerset

SIR – I can imagine a politics student in 2050 asking their lecturer: “What was the Conservative Party?”

John Catchpole
Beverley, East Yorkshire

Windrush memories

SIR – Well done to Roger Dillon (Letters, March 28) for his excellent letter detailing the sad demise of the Empire Windrush in 1954.

My father, Major Leonard Tripp, was also on board as a senior Army officer returning from his posting in Japan during the Korean War. He had served in the First World War in the Battle of the Somme, in the Second World War and then in the Korean war. He lost everything he had possessed during his military service overseas, but escaped with his life as one of the last to leave the burning ship.

The rescue of all the survivors was a remarkable exercise. With a bare minimum of information and not even a telephone, my mother, brother and I were in a state of great anxiety. I shall never forget when I saw my father step out of a taxi. I ran in my 3in heels to greet him.

The name Windrush arouses many varied memories.

Valerie Atkinson
Esher, Surrey

Floral roadsides

SIR – Can I thank the kind people who take the time and trouble to plant the many daffodil bulbs along roadways. The M5 from Worcester down to Bristol is a delight – there are even primroses at junction 14.

Elisabeth Barnes
Rushwick, Worcestershire

SIR – Driving through the Kent countryside last week, I was stunned by the glorious white blossom this year. It is at its best.

Jacqueline Davies
Norton, Kent

Hirsute Army recruits

SIR – I agree with Ben Wallace (report, March 30) that allowing bearded personnel in the Army will not be the answer to the recruiting problem. The idea that anyone suitable seeking a military career would be put off by a prohibition on beards is ridiculous, save for certain religious minorities.

The answer is more likely to lie within the privatisation of recruitment, and the delays of many months in the approval process. How much better it was when there were recruitment offices on high streets across the country for the different Armed Forces. Then a young man could call in, talk to a serving sergeant, sign up straight away, and proceed at once to enjoy the military life. The issues relating to adequate health and otherwise were dealt with following the immediate recruitment, bearded, mustachioed or fully shaven.

Jonathan Fogg
Loulé, Algarve, Portugal

SIR – The ban on beards, now rescinded, was not “ludicrous” as Grant Shapps, the Defence Secretary, suggested (report, March 23). A proper seal between the skin and a respirator is essential when faced with a chemical or biological threat, so would an order to shave now be issued only if danger is anticipated?

Shaving has been an operational necessity since chemical weapons were used in the First World War, and allegations of their use in Ukraine suggest that the threat has not gone away. This is an alarming sign that those responsible for our defence and soldiers’ safety continue to get their priorities wrong, and make misguided moves to modernise the Army.

Charles Smith-Jones
Landrake, Cornwall

SIR – With its clean-shaven soldiery, the 20th century is perhaps anomalous in relation to the British Army’s historical view of beards. Previous centuries required big, bright uniforms, long flashing cutlery on the end of big muskets, big hats and fierce facial hair. The enemy was intimidated and thus on the back foot long before shots were exchanged.

Lt Col Ian Thompson (retd)
Ingst, Gloucestershire

A good mixer

SIR – I was interested to read that modern home appliances are “not built to last” (report, March 30). We were given a Kenwood Chef as a wedding present in 1977. It is still going strong – and so are we.

Shona Dempster
Chichester, West Sussex

Inclusive Parkrun needs no more formal rules

Jogging on: Parkrun enthusiasts on the seafront at Whitley Bay, Newcastle upon Tyne
Jogging on: Parkrun enthusiasts on the seafront at Whitley Bay, Newcastle upon Tyne - Alamy

SIR – Parkrun (Sport, March 29) is the most successful public health initiative I can think of in my 40 years as a doctor. It is such a success because, in terms of information technology development, it came at the perfect time. All you need to take part is a simple, easily downloaded bar code, which even a computer illiterate dinosaur like me can manage. You can even run without this if you are not interested in your time being recorded.

Park run is also fundamentally non competitive. You may be crowded in at the start, you may be baulked by people you are lapping and - if you wish - there is nothing to stop you cheating by joining a race half way through, so records are of limited value. Who cares? If you have a target at all, it is only to beat your time of the previous week.

Leave records to more formal athletic events, and let Parkrun continue as amateur fun.

Dr John O’Driscoll
Fernhill Heath, Worcester

Britain’s school system could learn from France 

SIR – I have read your recent articles and letters (March 27) on Labour’s mean, short-sighted proposal to impose VAT on school fees – which I am strongly against – some of which mention being able to offset income tax against the fees.

It makes me think of the excellent system in France, where parents choosing to educate their children privately receive the amount from the state that would have been spent if the child had remained in the state system.

I then ask myself why the UK is subject to “envy politics” and, more importantly, what will happen to those children in private education who have special needs.

Marilyn Lee
Bowdon, Cheshire

SIR – My parents sacrificed much to send me to a private school. While working, I did not earn enough to send my children to private school, but I never thought that the solution to this was class hatred or the tearing down of some of the greatest educational establishments in the world.

The best way to shut down private schools would be to make state schools as good or better than them in every way. This would include instilling them with an ethos of academic excellence, respect, belonging, self-discipline, service, success and teamwork. If this happened, only a fool would pay to go private.

Nothing that the Labour Party is proposing would deliver any of this. What it will do is increase the burden on state education, slice the state education cake more thinly and rip yet more choices out of the hands of the only people who should be making them for children – their parents.

Victor Launert
Matlock Bath, Derbyshire

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