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Spectator letters: Mental health and assisted dying

Plus: cowardly Frenchmen; hair politics; and the crisis marketing crisis

5 September 2015

9:00 AM

5 September 2015

9:00 AM

Suicide and assisted dying

Sir: As a mental health practitioner, I am grateful to Douglas Murray (‘Death watch’, 29 August) for his incisive commentary on the impact of legalised euthanasia on people with psychiatric conditions. Supporters of assisted dying argue that a permissive act would be tightly framed, but the scope would inevitably widen, as has occurred in Holland. Although Lord Falconer and fellow travellers would bar people of unsound mind from the intended provision, this would soon be challenged as discriminatory: because effectively, a person would be punished for losing decision-making capacity. If proponents of euthanasia are really so rational, while their opponents are blinded by emotion or faith, how can this anomaly be justified?

To treat illnesses of body and mind as separate entities offends the holistic principle of all healthcare training. Hundreds of Dutch people with dementia have been put to sleep, so surely it would not be long before case law pushed the boundaries in this country. This would then require a radical overhaul of mental-health legislation. Psychiatrists and nurses currently responsible for protecting distressed people from suicide could become gatekeepers to their demise.

Falconer should be pressed on exactly what he thinks about the rights of people with psychiatric disorders, and why they should be excluded from his final solution.
Niall McCrae
Sutton, Surrey

When pain is unmanageable

Sir: Lord Falconer and Rob Marris’s upcoming bills in the House of Lords and Commons respectively cover a different and more narrow remit than Douglas Murray’s article implies. This is for the terminally ill with less than six months to live who wish to be given the means to take their own lives. They must have two GPs and one High Court judge to ensure these parameters are met.


Sometimes palliative care is not sufficient to ease the suffering of a person with a terminal illness. As someone whose aggressive recurring breast cancer is presently being ‘managed’ but will most likely not be cured, I live with the fear that pain management will not be enough as the disease progresses. Although the need may never arise, to have the legal means to hasten my death should I need it would ease my fears and therefore improve my quality of life enormously.
Sara Burns
London WC1

GPs who won’t kill

Sir: If the Assisted Dying Bill does come to pass, will there be a clause to enable patients to register with a GP who doesn’t believe in killing people?
Catherine Alexander (Dr)
Stratford upon Avon, Warks

Fighting talk

Sir: Toby Young was unfairly harsh on the French last week (Status anxiety, 29 August). The marines successfully disarmed the gunman not because they were American but because they were marines, trained mentally and physically to deal with an armed opponent. If the incident had happened on a train in this country and there were a couple of French paratroopers around, does he not think it likely that they would be first to have a go?
John Duffield
Loughton, Essex

Still red

Sir: Your red-haired reviewer of Red (Books, 29 August) does not comment on the changes age brings to coloured hair. As the wife for 57 years of one of The Spectator’s longest-running columnists, Paul Johnson, may I comment? Here is a little quatrain we wrote yesterday to cheer us up:

When Paul became a Thatcherite
His hair became a mop of white
But what I see when he’s in bed
Is pubic hair still flaming red.

Is this a biochemical, personal or political development?
Marigold Johnson
London W11

Marketers of crisis

Sir: Mary Wakefield’s column on the self-harming political correctness of some educated young people (29 August) was brilliant, but ultimately it fingers the wrong culprits. Since the wholesale destruction of value-adding jobs in the developed world, a new jobs sector has pushed to the fore: the caring and advocacy businesses. This enterprise is now arguably the largest employer in the developed world, comprising franchises from sexual identity to human rights or foreign intervention. Two things underpin them all. The need to create, maintain and escalate ‘crisis’, and an insatiable demand for victims, real or otherwise, to justify the franchise.

We should thus not blame young people, but the marketers of crisis. This sector has hamstrung the economic competitiveness of the developed world, coarsened human relationships and embedded a profound anxiety in society. Forget Islamic State — this is the existential threat to the developed world.
Brian Pottinger
Launceston, Cornwall

Corbyn’s fan base

Sir: Melissa Kite’s note on her middle-class neighbours enthusing about Jeremy Corbyn (Real life, 22 August) highlights a phenomenon rarely touched on by commentators: that in politics, emotion nearly always trumps reason. Churchill’s 1940s speeches are almost devoid of substance, but they lifted the nation’s spirits and nearly everyone was united behind him. I do not believe that many followers of the SNP or Corbyn actually want the extreme socialist policies they advocate. But reason and logic make no difference. They are wafted along on the tide of emotion. Most commentators assert that a Labour party led by Corbyn could never win an election, but it is astonishing how an emotion can spread. No one should be too sure.
Andrew Shelley
Rudgwick, West Sussex


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