Dr Mike Fitzpatrick sympathises with the effects of the Covid pandemic lockdown on the elderly, but warns against older people disregarding the restrictions, not least because robustly proclaiming that the interests of young people should not be sacrificed to those who have lived much longer ‘gives succour to those who are inclined to the view that the lives of the elderly are less worthy than those of the younger generation’; he maintains that ‘[d]evaluing people by their age is wrong’ (Doctor’s Diary, Telegraph, November 16, 2020).

He is, of course, right in that, and he has previously expressed his opposition to assisted suicide (‘Vote on assisted suicide is a relief’, The Surgery, Telegraph, March 2, 2020); however, he has also said that the abortion pill should be sold over the counter, just like the ‘morning-after’ pill (‘Doctor’s Diary: “No going back”’, Telegraph, June 8, 2020).

However, if women have the ‘right to choose’ death for their unborn child, an even stronger case could be mounted – and indeed, is being mounted – for the right to kill themselves; and if they need help to do so, ‘right to die’ advocates also argue that they should have that help, since in the interests of free choice we should not ‘discriminate’ against those who cannot kill themselves.

But if, in opposition to such arguments, we believe that allowing the old to be killed amounts to age discrimination – even if they are thought to be ‘only’ days, weeks, or months from death – why is it not age discrimination to allow a child to be killed because they are ‘only’ a few days, a few weeks, or a few months from the beginning of life? Abortion is simply age discrimination at the other end of life. Devaluing people on the basis of their age is indeed wrong; the very fact of being human should provide protection from killing – making it a ‘choice’ does not make it right.

After the disastrous effects of the Government’s earlier pandemic policy of sending untested patients to residential care, the blanket issue of Do Not Resuscitate orders to be signed by the old and mentally vulnerable,  and the terrible effects that a lack of human contact, especially on the mentally confused, leading to fears of many premature deaths, it might be hoped that lessons were learned; however, it has emerged that ‘Covid-19 outbreaks in care homes have risen to almost 400 in a month’ as the Government has ‘failed to take action to stop the virus’s spread by roving agency workers’; having promised to end this practice, official statistics reveal that there were 397 such outbreaks in English care homes in the four weeks ending November 8 – ‘a 44 per cent rise on the 297 the previous month’ . In addition, some of the most vulnerable residents have been left without visitors for months, since ‘[u]under current rules, friends and family can often only see loved ones through “prison-style” screens’ through windows, while some care homes ‘only allow outdoor or drive-through visits, or none at all.’

The Government has now launched 20 pilot schemes in ‘areas with low levels of infections’ to allow ‘relatives of residents to have Covid tests so they can safely visit the vulnerable’; if successful, these ‘will be followed by a national roll-out next month, allowing families to reunite before Christmas’; however, the experiment has been introduced only after ‘a long campaign’ by elder-care charities (‘Government delays as care home cases rise’, Telegraph, November 16, 2020).

At the same time, approximately ‘25,000 elderly people with conditions like dementia have been left in limbo waiting to find out if crippling care bills of up to £100,000 a year will be funded by the state’, with thousands in danger of ‘being unfairly denied funding for their care after being caught in a “huge” lockdown backlog of applications’.

It seems that on this issue, as with so many others, the needs of the elderly have been sidelined in the ‘fight against Covid’ and the battle to ‘save our NHS’ – principally, it would seem, from them; even fears about roving care workers appear to have centred less on the risks posed to the care homes and more on the risk posed to the rest of the population from the care homes, since during the first Covid wave, ‘Government scientists repeatedly raised concerns that outbreaks within care homes were “seeding” infections across whole communities.’

The Covid pandemic has been cited to restrict countless areas of public life and private activities, including church services; however, recently, Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced that a terminally ill woman could travel to Switzerland to end her life – for compassionate reasons, naturally.

How long will it be before someone brings a legal challenge arguing that those care home residents physically unable to travel are being denied this ‘choice’ – that they should be allowed to die in the comfort of their own care homes? Perhaps their families will be allowed to watch through a glass screen, ‘for their own safety’ – providing, of course, the old person has not already died of Covid.