For many states, this week marks the end of one full month of quarantine. At this point many of us may be starting to feel restless, but we’ve also started to “get the hang” of the stay-at-home lifestyle. Thus, with President Trump’s recent extension of coronavirus protection guidelines to mid-May, Americans have resigned themselves to at least another month of quarantine and are prepared to settle in for the long haul. However, the prospect of long-term social distancing poses troubling implications for those who are most affected by isolation- namely, the elderly.
Extensive research has shown that adults age 60 and older are the most vulnerable to the coronavirus, particularly those with pre-existing medical problems. Experts have urged this age group to be extra stringent about practicing social distancing to mitigate the health risk. Many hospitals and long-term care and nursing facilities across the country have banned in-person visits in compliance with pandemic recommendations. Yet, according to the Association of Health Care Journalists, older adults who experience social isolation and loneliness are more likely to develop dementia, have an increased risk of falls and hospital readmissions, and have increased mortality. How sadly ironic that the measures meant to keep our elderly loved ones safe- simply staying away from them- could also lead them to worse suffering.
Euthanasia is also a serious risk. MSN News reported that U.S. hospitals were discussing “do not resuscitate” orders for elderly coronavirus patients, “regardless of the wishes of the patient or their family members,” to conserve resources and avoid the increased risk to medical staff. Thankfully, a triage of this degree was deemed unlikely to happen in the United States, so no blanket decisions were made. Still, the very idea feeds the prejudice against the elderly, disabled, and terminally ill within the healthcare field.
In terms of care, this pandemic has acted as a wakeup call for our country. The particular threats posed to this demographic force us to re-evaluate the way our society views and treats these victims of what Pope Francis calls our “throwaway” culture. Do we really make enough effort to engage with our elderly neighbors in need, to connect with the people who need connection the most? Perhaps we all need the reminder, even within the pro-life movement, that there is a difference between merely surviving and living a meaningful life.
On a brighter note, President Trump’s announcement of the extended quarantine was accompanied by a tentative plan for reopening the United States for business and gradual relaxation of quarantine policies. There is a light at the end of the tunnel but the road will be long. In the meantime, we are challenged not only to ask ourselves, “how can I show love for my elders right now?”, but to remind society that neglect, euthanasia, or any other practice that destroys human dignity, is never an acceptable answer.