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For the 377 (and the 80,000 who don’t matter)

It’s long been a saying that a nation can be judged by its response to its most vulnerable citizens. Most of us have nodded and agreed with this, while joining in any outrage against nations who do not treat their vulnerable with respect, appalled even at our own government’s ideological programme of austerity over the past ten years because of the dire consequences for so many on the margins of society.

When I wrote this post back in September, I very much hoped that some of the ableism and ageism I had seen increasing throughout the nation and the world would be replaced by outrage against such an insidious narrative. Sadly, though, I’ve only seen it increase beyond measure as Covid restrictions have again become more difficult for so many. More and more, on many places in social media and society at large, I have sat back and observed the growth of a dystopian narrative; not a narrative of rights being taken away, as some argue, but a narrative of how we judge value. A narrative where people’s lives are weighed by their productivity, by their age, by their economic and social value to society.

It’s never been more stark to me than in the last day or two, as a statement about the number of Covid deaths of people under 60 without underlying conditions has gone viral on social media:

Commentators have used these 377 ‘normal’ people who have died as an excuse to propagate their already-ingrained lockdown scepticism. They know that these low numbers may shock many people. They reduce the impact of Covid itself to ‘just’ 377 healthy people and find that wanting against the impact of lockdown on a whole generation.

The impact of lockdown is not something I am arguing against. I, as much as anyone, am greatly concerned about the effect on mental health, on other health conditions (I myself have missed out on important appointments), on our youth, on unemployment, on poverty. (For more on the lockdown scepticism issue, have a look at this article – it’s not something I greatly want to engage with here.) None of these things should be used, though, to gaslight the population into the belief that measures are not needed – these societal affects would be greatly enlarged by the letting rip of the virus through the nation, rather than magically coming to an end if restrictions are lifted.

When the great majority of those who have died are reduced to ‘the old and the sick’, I think we are in great danger of the beginning of a eugenics model of how we treat people in our society. I think that we are on a road, a very nasty road indeed, towards the classification of people by their health and age status.

And that makes my blood run cold.

Let’s look more closely at the 377, and more pertinently, at the 80,000 who don’t really matter, according to this narrative. (And then the hundreds of thousands more who are affected long term, and so often forgotten.) The 377 are the people without any underlying conditions. So, it goes, we have catastrophically ruined society because of 377 people who have (sadly) died. They always add in the ‘sadly,’ I find, in some attempt to prove there is a little humanity left in their message.

The 80,000 are the people who have underlying conditions, and so the people who the rest of the nation are ‘making sacrifices’ for. The narrative is justified by the often following contention that most of these are very old and very sick. They are near death anyway, so why on earth are we making life so very awful for so many?

I think it is important to say that I am not all about saving life at all costs. We all die, and we must not buy into the notion that all lives must be saved, whatever the cost to society. We must be realistic about disease and death, about a virus that will become endemic and probably cost many thousands each year their lives, as flu does. But this is where I am coming from today: We are in the grip of an exponentially growing virus that must be contained in order to get things back to some semblance of normality. And within this, 80,000 people have been lumped together as those people who were going to die anyway. 80,000 people have been measured and found wanting.

80,000 people have been measured and found wanting.

But here’s the thing. In those 80,000 we find a whole range of ages and a whole range of conditions. We find 20 year olds with asthma and 50 year olds who are obese. We find 80 year olds with dementia and 30 year olds with diabetes. Just because the numbers are skewed to the higher age group, does not discount the others. A small percentage of a large number is still a large number. So when people talk about those who are worthy to be counted – the 377 – they discount people like these doctors, many of whom would not be listed in the 377, many of whom are BAME. What also stands starkly out to me is how those who perpetuate this narrative often cite their great concern for people with cancer, whose treatment has been delayed by the measures (or, I would argue, by the consequences of the virus), but then seem happy that these very people are not counted in the 377 who matter, because they have an underlying condition. It smacks of hypocrisy and it is chilling.

Step aside, disabled people.
Lock yourself away, chronically ill people.
Get out of my way, people with cancer.
And most of all, just die anyway, people who are old.

My blood is running so cold that I am shivering.

I am calling us out on this. I am calling out the insidious stirrings of a society that measures people on what they can do for that society. I am calling out the makings of of a paradigm shift, of a world where the vulnerable are of less worth because they are vulnerable, where we are expendable if and when the young and healthy are impacted by our needs.

I am calling the Church out on this. I am calling out the inauspicious stirrings of a church that measures people on what they can do for that church, an unrighteous message of a utilitarian kingdom. I am calling out to those who follow Jesus to prioritise his beautiful kingdom principles; principles that never valued some over others, whatever their status or productivity in society. It is a kingdom of upside-down, a kingdom where all are equally valued and equally loved, a kingdom of strength in weakness and beauty in ashes.

What do you think?

Step aside, disabled people. Lock yourself away, chronically ill people. Get out of my way, people with cancer. And most of all, just die anyway, people who are old. For the 377 (and the 80,000 who don't matter) Click To Tweet I am calling out the inauspicious stirrings of a church that measures people on what they can do for that church, an unrighteous message of a utilitarian kingdom. I am calling out to those who follow Jesus to prioritise his… Click To Tweet
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2 Comments

  1. Chris Bourne

    Reading this, our household doesn’t matter. One with a long term condition, ME for 18 years, is she expendable? I have had a lung condition for 12 years, so can I expect to live? And 2 of the 3 of us are ‘very old’ ( mid 60s), so maybe we all just need to shuffle off this mortal coil and make space for those who need their freedom to be put and about, to mix, to have their lives back?

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