I am a great admirer of Lionel Shriver and enjoyed her article on assisted dying (“Not fade away?”, the New Review). She has clearly thought about the subject deeply and will be aware of the complexity of trying to legislate on this topic. Limiting assisted dying to those with a terminal illness judged to have less than six months to live (as per the Falconer bill of 2014) is the most likely outcome of any change in the law but would not meet her example of unbearable chronic pain, nor the vexed issue of dementia, let alone the existential demand to die at a time of one’s own choosing. I look forward to reading her new novel; fiction is a valuable way to explore difficult subjects.
As a former chairman of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society, I was very interested in Lionel Shriver’s article. Between 2005 and 2016, I accompanied five determined individuals to Switzerland for a medically assisted rational suicide (Mars). As a retired GP, I was very pleased to be asked to help each of them on their final journey.
A Mars for competent, severely suffering adults has been possible in Switzerland for several decades and is fully supported by a great majority of Swiss doctors and people. Why cannot we, in the UK, have the same compassionate opportunity?
The real climate victims
Summer heatwaves may well pose significant threats to older and/or less healthy people in the UK and northern Europe but should be kept in perspective (“Heatwave deaths set to soar as UK summers become hotter”, News). Those in poorer and hotter countries will face far worse problems, especially when richer countries don’t take in the climate refugees their apathy, delay and bickering have created.
Decades have been wasted arguing about climate change, even though many ideas, essential if mainstream views are correct, make sense. Examples include less waste, alternatives to fossil fuels, combining conservation with careful use, silviculture, adopting regenerative agriculture and growing fewer cash crops. When those suffering most from climate change try to identify those responsible, the greed, spineless attitudes and stupidity of western politicians, policymakers, rich vested interests and (sadly) many scientists on both sides of the debate should be high on their lists.
Injustices of Airbnb
It should now be clear from your article that Airbnb is a misnomer (“Staycation popularity squeezes tenants out of seaside resort homes”, News). It is nothing to do with those friendly bed-and-breakfast offers of the past. It not only distorts the housing market in favour of an increasingly greedy “rentier” class, but also radically changes the very nature of the locations in which they occur. Local councils should step in with overseeing regulations regarding letting and tenancies to ensure such injustices are reversed by more responsible market conditions.
Her name is Mbuya
Jason Burke refers to the new statue in Harare of “… a revered spiritual leader who resisted subjugation by Cecil Rhodes and his British South Africa company” (“Macron begs forgiveness on Africa tour”, World). She had a name, Nehanda Charwe Nyakasikana, known as Mbuya. If Rhodes is named, so should she be.
Bias in schools
In your article about A-level results, the Ofqual spokesperson misrepresents Ofqual’s own findings (“Parents prepare for legal action over A-levels”, News). In its recently published “Systematic divergence between teacher and test-based assessment” review, Ofqual found that bias against more disadvantaged pupils and pupils with special educational needs “was a common finding”.
Your editorial is right that Dominic Cummings “expressed what appeared to be genuine contrition for his role in the policy disasters that caused people to die” (“The witness is unreliable, the verdict is clear. Government incompetence has been deadly”). But Cummings’ score-settling appearance before a joint parliamentary committee was trivialised by his crass use of popcorn movie analogies to illustrate his marathon evidence. As the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice UK rightly tweeted: “That this information is… littered with Independence Day, Jeff Goldblum and Spiderman references, is utterly inappropriate and makes this even more appalling.”
Ironically, Cummings sounded most authentic when assessing his own and his former boss’s basic unsuitability for their powerful political roles: “It is completely crazy that I should have been in such a senior position… just as it’s crackers that Boris Johnson was in there.”
Publish – and be quick
Andrew Rawnsley’s insistence on a public inquiry into government handling of the pandemic “starting very soon” should be matched by an insistence on equal promptitude on the publication of the inquiry’s findings and recommendations (“Tories made a Faustian bargain when they gave us this lord of misrule’’, Comment). The absence of a commitment to such urgency (think Hillsborough, Grenfell) can only jeopardise the accountability of those who may be responsible and the vindication of those who may be innocent.
Bangladesh needs vaccines
The article “As China races ahead, the rollout has barely begun in world’s poorest states” (News) emphasised Africa’s need for vaccines. However, the newest deadly virus is in south Asia and Bangladesh is enormously exposed owing to its porous border with India, its population density and worse healthcare than in India. Like African countries, Bangladesh has also been let down by the Serum Institute of India, from which it had ordered 30m vaccines.
To date, Bangladesh has received only 5.5m doses for its 170 million people, giving only 1.6% of its population two doses. Now, both the Indian and South African variants are spreading in Bangladesh. People are worried. The government is appealing urgently for vaccines. To avoid another Brazil, please spare a few million vaccines for Bangladesh.
Professor Dr MLR Sarker
University of Rajshahi, Bangladesh
Professor Janet Nichol
University of Sussex, Brighton
Credit where credit’s due
I read Donna Ferguson’s very interesting article in relation to Ann Oakley’s forthcoming book, Forgotten Wives: How Women Get Written Out of History, concerning the literary airbrushing of Charlotte Shaw’s immense contribution to her husband George Bernard Shaw’s success (“My fair lady: how George Bernard Shaw’s wife played a vital role in his masterworks”, News). How shocking that she did not get the recognition she so deserved, except perhaps from a more perceptive TE Lawrence. It makes my blood boil. So to misquote a line from My Fair Lady, based on his book Pygmalion: “Move your bloomin’ ego, George.”
Judith A Daniels
Cobholm, Great Yarmouth, Norfolk
Of flocks, locks and rocks
What a lovely article about people flocking to live and holiday on the inland waterways (“More boats on canals and rivers since 18th century”, News). I read it while stuck in a five-hour boat jam at some fairly straightforward staircase locks, during which I witnessed two marriages hit the rocks and several teenagers asking for directions to the nearest bus stop.
Gordon Bennett, Llangollen canal