Spectator letters: A surgeon writes on assisted dying, and an estate agent answers Harry Mount

12 July 2014

9:00 AM

12 July 2014

9:00 AM

Real help for those in pain

Sir: The fickleness of existence is exemplified by the fact that being Tony Blair’s ex-flatmate puts you in the position of further eroding the moral fabric of the nation without ever having had stood for office. An advert for Charlie Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill is rather cynically placed opposite Jenny McCartney’s nuanced examination of the implications of this potential legislation (‘Terminally confused’, 5 July). Among other points, Ms McCartney quite correctly reprises the ‘slippery slope’ argument, which in the case of legalised abortion turned out to have been prophetic.

One of her issues is the involvement of medical staff. Apart from the actual executioner’s role, there is the thorny problem of what constitutes ‘dying’. Every week I come across patients with terminal illness for whom an exact timescale is simply not possible. In another context, Keynes was quite correct to point out that ‘In the long term we’re all dead.’ The ‘six months or less’ clause is simply guesswork, and is an open invitation to abuse. I would be wary of assuming that all of the medical profession are as high-minded in this regard as Lord Falconer seems to be hoping.

These are very important practical issues, although the ultimate argument remains a moral one.

None of this is to diminish the genuine suffering outlined anecdotally in the advert. If the truly laudable aim is indeed that ‘fewer people will suffer’, then the answer lies in expanding and improving the neglected provision for palliative care in the NHS, which in some areas of the country is in a disgraceful state. It is perhaps the most powerful example of how the enormous NHS budget is so badly directed away from areas of true need.
Benedict Clift
Consultant Orthopaedic and Trauma Surgeon, Ninewells Hospital, Dundee

Mustn’t grumble

Sir: September’s Scottish referendum is not some peripheral Celtic curiosity. It is critical to the existence of the UK, so it is very good to see you taking an intelligent interest (‘What will be left?’, 5 July).

But what are we to do with Simon Heffer? His choleric grumblings about the Barnett formula are uncannily reminiscent in tone of the aggrieved nationalist muttering into his beer found in many Edinburgh bars. Yes, separation for the UK would be bad news for Scotland. But it would also have profound negative consequences for the rest of the UK — including England. Breaking the union is a game in which everyone would be a loser.

To his credit, David Cameron sees that, and has put aside short-term partisan interest in the national one. Of course there are things to be sorted out within the union. But they are the sort of things that grown-ups can work on and fix. It starts with making the Scottish Parliament responsible for taxing as well as spending. Cameron’s government has legislated to start that in two years’ time, and he proposes more. Good for him. Much better to fix the union — the UK’s territorial constitution — than to grumble about our grievances.
Jim Gallagher
Nuffield College, Oxford

Britain, my Britain?

Sir: Further to Simon Heffer’s refreshingly cheerful article about the Scottish referendum (‘England unchained’, 5 July), may I point out that in the 307 years of the Union, no Englishman has ever made a decent poem expressing love for, or pride in, Britain and Britishness. Browning did not write: ‘Oh to be in Britain!’ Nor Brooke: ‘There’s some corner of a foreign field, that is forever Britain.’ Nor even Kipling, (whose mother was Scottish): ‘If Britain were what Britain seems, and not the Britain of our dreams.’ Surely a nation’s poets, and not its politicians and journalists, are the true voices of its soul. There may or may not be practical reasons for the English to hope for a no vote on 19 September. But there is no sentimental one.
David Watkins

What estate agents are for

Sir: Harry Mount’s piece on how the internet could and should bring about the demise of estate agents (28 June) misunderstands that houses are not fast-moving consumer goods and that, as so often in life, you get what you pay for. In 35 years I’ve seen many cash-poor, time-rich people seeking cheaper sales, but despite a mature internet, as I write a mere 10,000 of the 760,000 properties on the market are for sale through online agents.

To compare agents with Turkish prostitutes is a cheap and irrelevant shot given that, in visiting such a brothel, the majority of the work goes into finding a berth, and 20 per cent into the actual performance. When it comes to property, finding a buyer is merely 20 per cent of the work, with the internet simply providing a bigger shop window. It doesn’t do the remaining 80 per cent — getting the money actually into the seller’s pocket — which is what you pay your fee for. To constantly see commentators panning agents as earning money for old rope implies that they’ve never sat in an office and tried to sell a property. If Mr Mount thinks it’s easy, then I’m very happy to offer him a seat for a few days to experience it.

Be careful what you wish for. The internet provides many things, but a personal service is not one of them.
Ed Mead
Executive director, Douglas & Gordon London SW1

No one listened

Sir: Charles Moore writes (Notes, 5 July) in relationship to Jimmy Savile and Rolf Harris that it is ‘easy to attack the old’ for sexual crimes. But the cries for help about these two, and others like Cyril Smith, began decades ago and no one listened. In the late 1940s no teenage girl in my school would stay in a room alone more than once with a particular male teacher. If she complained about his gropings, she was met with a chuckle of: ‘That’s what he’s like.’
Jonathan Mirsky
London W11

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  • tjamesjones

    Tony Blair’s flatmate?

  • Stanley Cook

    Poor Lord Falconer, accused of “further(further?) eroding the moral fabric of the nation” by doing something that opinion polls suggest the great majority of (surely mostly moral) British people will thoroughly approve of.