Protecting the vulnerable during a time of crisis

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Home > Media > News > Protecting the vulnerable during a time of crisis
Protecting the vulnerable during a time of crisis

By Ben Smith, Director of the Office of Life, Marriage and Family

In an age of great technological progress, it is ironic that an organism of microscopic dimensions has caused such an impact of macroscopic proportions. Political leaders in Australia acted quickly to flatten the curve but most governments around the world have struggled to contain the destruction caused by the Coronavirus. High infection rates in Europe and North America led to the emergence of ventilator shortages and there use had to be rationed on the basis of criteria that included a person’s age. While it is true that Coronavirus death rates were higher for people aged over 65, males had higher death rates than females. It would be unacceptable to use a person’s sex in the criteria for ventilator access so why was age used? It could be argued that this was a form of ageism. Worse forms of ageism came to light through the pandemic. 

Residents in aged care facilities in the US, Canada, the UK, Belgium, The Netherlands, Sweden, Italy, France and Spain accounted for around half the total deaths from the Coronavirus in those countries. Some of the causes related to lack of personal protective equipment and safety protocols, workforce issues involving staff attending work while sick, lack of access to medical and Coronavirus testing services and a lack of attention from public health authorities. There were also a broader cultural issue at play. Professor Geoffrey Pleyers at the University of Louvain argued that: “Belgian society has decided that the lives of these confined elders count much less than those of the ‘active’, or even that they do not count.”

In contrast, the World Health Organisation’s messaging in terms of respect for the elderly was outstanding. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of WHO, said that, “We need to work together to protect older people from the virus … They are valued and valuable members of our families and communities … Older people carry the collective wisdom of our societies.”

As Tasmanians emerge from the lockdown it is important that protecting the elderly and other vulnerable people is maintained as a top priority. This protection needs to be kept in mind especially now that new legislation aimed at legalising euthanasia and assisted suicide is set to be introduced into Tasmania’s parliament in a matter of weeks. The dignity of the human person is not a function of age or ability but stems from us all being created in the image and likeness of God.