You can’t sacrifice old people to COVID-19. It’s wrong, and it doesn’t work
Our old Patti in the UK recently had a COVID scare. She’s in poor health and would not do well. Luckily it was something else, but we were scared. What’s even scarier is that, to many people, her life is expendable. A statistic. In western discourse, her life doesn’t matter. But it matters to us.
Anyone who says “it just kills old people” is wrong. COVID-19 doesn’t just kill old people, and this is morally wrong. And it doesn’t work.
Western countries that haggled demographics with this virus have gotten hammered. Eastern countries that fought for every single life have done well. In this case, the right thing is the smart thing, and if you’re debating sacrificing grandma you’re both an asshole and dumb.
This is simply not debated where I live, in Sri Lanka, or anywhere in Asia. No one here suggested sacrificing our elders to COVID-19, we just fight for our lives. All of them. In the West, people are watching a monster devour grandma and thinking it somehow won’t come for them. It’s baffling.
I can’t believe we’re even debating human sacrifice in 2020. The Gods weren’t listening 600 years ago and the virus isn’t listening now.
The Immoral Calculus
If I may set up my straw man, the immoral calculus is this. Grandma has 10 years left and I have 40. I’d like to keep earning money and getting haircuts, so let’s just let her die. So yeah, expected value, 10 years of life vs. 30, you’re up on the deal.
Except viruses don’t cut deals.
If the virus infects grandma, it also infects her family, or her caregivers. Those people continue going to work and infecting people there. Yes, it kills younger people less, but it still kills them a lot. If you try to bargain with a contagious disease you just get more disease. It’s a devil’s bargain.
The West keeps offering up human sacrifices — their old people, their minorities, their medical workers, their working-class — and the virus keeps saying…. nothing. It’s a fucking virus. It doesn’t negotiate. You either fight for every life or it spreads.
The modern west is honestly worse than the Aztecs because they were really less brutal than the Europeans, and human sacrifice was a distorted view of them. Sorry Huitzilopochtli. COVID-19 is real, and our modern sacrifice to the ‘economy’ is legitimately horrifying (and ineffective).
The Asian Example
The countries that have bent or eliminated the curve have fought for every single life. Either from the start, like in Asia, or after cruel experience, as in the West. I’ll turn to Asia, because countries here have done well and western media sleeps on them.
Nowhere in Asia did people widely debate killing their elders. It just didn’t come up.
In Taiwan, Hong Kong, and South Korea they fought this thing from day one and they have death counts in the hundreds. Every country with a southern land border with China has fought and done OK. Even China, once it woke up, fought aggressively for every single life, and reduced their deaths to zero.
That is what civilized country is trying to do. We’re not trying to save some people, or some demographic. We’re trying to save everyone. No one should die like this. The only number of acceptable deaths is zero.
No way to die
Let me get into the moral side of this. The personal side. COVID-19 is not a mild or quick disease. It is agonizing, painful, and slow. It’s not as bloody as Ebola, but you try being strangled for 40 days and see if the distinction matters. As doctor and scientist Ethan Weiss said:
This is not a way anyone should die. These poor people are tied to a bed for 20–40+ days with a tube shoved down their throats, unable to speak, delirious and disoriented, in pain, drugged, weak, tired, starving, scared and entirely-alone. They are all alone…
So I did start to tire of the arguments about the pros and cons of social distancing or the health impacts of a broken economy. But again, I also get it. It is hard to understand unless you see it, and hardly anyone is seeing it.
This is no way to die. No one should die like this. Every death is preventable and every death is a failure. The western media praises Angela Merkel for presiding over 6,800 dead (a death toll worse than Iran’s), but Germany is a failure. These are all people who died gasping and alone and they treat them as statistics. Those were human beings and they died gasping for air, not seeing a human face, terrified and alone.
No way to live
This argument about killing grandparents is a great moral and social failure. I’m debating it here, but this should not be debated. It is a moral failure because it’s wrong, and it’s a social failure because it doesn’t work.
This is like the trolley problem — would you throw a switch and kill 1 person or 10. The only difference is that this trolley is on a loop. If you let it kill one person it’ll come back and kill 10 anyways. Then 100. Then you.
Morality is not some abstract thing. It’s practical life advice. If you try and do the right thing you’ll generally be healthier, happier, and have better relationships. Public health is fundamentally public morality — caring about people and working together to save lives. All lives.
This is the right way to live and it’s the right thing to do. We need to listen to our hearts, our heads, and stop trying to negotiate with an inanimate virus. Black lives matter. Migrant lives matter. Medical worker’s lives matter. Working-class lives matter. And old lives matter as well.