Pulling Together

419/1290?

We won’t do it!

My wife and I considered the letter for about five seconds. Then we looked at each other and said “No!”

It was addressed to her as the parent of her son, inviting him to take part in a survey of the spread of COVID-19 among primary-age children, by having a test. This is a worthy aim, of course, in trying to understand how the virus might be transmitted in young children even if they do not display obvious symptoms. It might answer questions including whether children who do not seem to catch the illness might nevertheless act as vectors of it to those more at risk. However, my wife’s son has learning disabilities and doesn’t even understand what illness is, so far as we can tell. So he certainly cannot understand what a virus is, or why the government (another concept he simply does not know anything about) would want his mother and step-father to push a swab up his nose until it hurt, and/or thrust it into his throat, where he would probably bite it off and choke on it. We had to do this once before when his school were a little too keen on measuring temperature with a device which didn’t match his disability needs and gave falsely high readings. He screamed and we felt like monsters. We decided then we would never do it to him again.

If the test were for his own benefit and his own health could be seriously compromised without it that would be a different matter. Then, of course his parents would consent, and it would be none of my business except as an observer, but to do this for the gathering of statistics when it would cause him so much distress he could not know the reason for is just unacceptable. My “No” was just an opinion, supporting my wife’s decision, but it was a good way to show solidarity in the moment.

Government reactions around the world during the current pandemic have completely reshaped and rebalanced the relationship between power and the ruled. Gone completely are the days of democracy, when governments were accountable to their people. Instead, now they tell us whether we can see friends, whether families can sit in the same room, whether we can pursue innocent pleasures, whether we can worship, whether we can go through rites of passage, which children can go to school, what is essential for our lives and whether we can buy it, whether we can have our hair cut, whom we may allow to enter our property, and why. This is all much more akin to the totalitarian than the democratic, yet we accept it because the propaganda is very good at persuading the majority it’s the right thing to do, that it saves lives.

Yet that is questionable. As I’ve mentioned before, our lives are not infinite. They are limited. None of us knows how long we shall live. It is probably not fixed in advance, but we all know we shall die, and we cannot live longer than our limited ability. That means every moment is precious, not just for those elderly or unwell who might succumb to a disease, but for all of us. The calculation then is whether the life lost by preventing people living as they wish for a year is more or less than that lost if frailer people die from a natural illness, given those frailer people are more likely to die soon anyway, or might already be beyond their best quality of life. That is clearly an extremely complicated question, for which no one should venture a simplistic explanation. There are many different variables and many different circumstances, and exactly who should suffer to protect whom is clearly a difficult, probably impossible judgement to make. All I know is that great hardship is being caused to many by the restrictions, that whole freedoms previously guaranteed to citizens have been lost, setting a precedent that they can never be guaranteed again, and that our neighbours’ recycling bins are as full of bottles as ours, suggesting a huge rise in the need for drug and alcohol rehabilitation services for years to come.

Yet we remain defiant in this one respect; we will not torture a child who cannot understand just because the Government asks us — not again.

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