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News Comment 

 a personal view of the week's news from Erithacus

The financial markets were, I thought, particularly uninteresting this week although the FTSE100 finished slightly up on the week at 6209.30. The US indices were also up, with the Dow Jones finishing at 10587.59 and the Nasdaq at 2655.68.

With other UK news this week I found myself becoming steadily more annoyed as one story after another made me wonder whether I am simply out of step with the rest of the world or, at the very least, with the rest of the media.

The National Health Service came first. I read, with some shock, the story of dead bodies being left wrapped in blankets on the floor of a hospital’s Chapel of Rest because there was apparently no room in the mortuary. How terrible it must have felt to have been one of the relatives of the deceased, but how insensitive of those newspapers who published pictures of the bodies on their front pages. With the subsequent resignation of the hospital manager, I did wonder whether any of it was actually his fault. Yet at the same time as this story first hit the headlines, another Health Service story lurked on the inside pages of some of the newspapers and just managed a mention on the television news. This report indicated that around one in ten patients in hospital develop infections caught during their stay. And more people die in UK hospitals from infections than are killed in road accidents every year. While the "bodies on the floor" story ran and ran, the deaths from infection disappeared almost without trace. Do we, I wonder, have our priorities right?

Next on my list, and one for which I shall stand firmly on top of my soapbox, concerns medical experiments on animals. In particular, the events surrounding Huntingdon Life Sciences which came near to closing its business completely although news this morning (Saturday) indicates that finance from overseas has been found to keep the company afloat. A sustained campaign over several years by animal rights activists has been targeting the company itself, the company’s employees and directors, the company’s bankers, and, perhaps most effective of all, the company’s shareholders. My annoyance in this case was not centred around the rights or wrongs of experimentation on animals, but that we could allow any UK company going about its lawful business to be so severely damaged by a very small group of militant individuals. It is simply not acceptable, in my view, that our society allows disruption, harassment, persecution, by a small group to achieve their own ends – even if their objectives may possibly be ethical and principled. We have established legal and political systems through which to make changes if changes are needed. Mob rule by whichever mob shouts the loudest or causes the most disruption? I think not. I hope not.

Finally, although not the only cause of my discontent this week, was the story of the adoption of the twin girls from the USA by an English solicitor and his wife. While closer and closer links are formed between countries via the internet and ever-improving communications, the difference in local laws must inevitably cause problems of this sort from time to time – tragic though it is when it affects peoples lives and particularly the lives of children. After all, the Americans have lived with different laws in different States for years, and even this adoption which was (probably) legal in Arkansas where it took place would not necessarily have been legal elsewhere. The convention is that was generally have to agree that any action considered proper and legal where it took place, remains proper and legal anywhere else. However, understanding that there may possibly have been irregularities, even accepting that Arkansas laws and regulations may be very different from our own, I am completely astounded by the surprise move by Social Services to take the babies into care. Were these children at risk? Was it likely that this move would in any way lessen the disruption to their lives? Or was it another example of bureaucracy gone mad?

I welcome any readers’ comments or views on this week’s "News Comment" or any topics in this week’s news. E-mail to, and indicate whether you would be happy for your e-mail to be published. The editor reserves the right to shorten or paraphrase e-mails before publication.

Have a good week.

20th January 2001                        


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