Covid puts ethics under pressure in Sweden

The Wuhan virus pandemic is bringing many ethical questions about the treatment of the aged into stark relief.

90% of all deaths in Sweden due to the Wuhan virus have been of those over 70 years. I have been less than impressed by the Government and the National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen) in Sweden. Their “remaining useful life” criterion is rational but hypocritical in trying to maintain the pretense of it not being age discrimination. They have effectively removed those over 70 from their definition of the herd to be protected. Even the trade unions were extremely concerned about protective equipment for their members working in the care sector. They threatened to strike at some care homes. I suppose that very few inmates of the care homes are active trade union members.

Suspected cases in care homes were usually kept away from the health care system and its facilities. The health system was under stress but never overwhelmed. Isolating those over 70 certainly helped reduce the pressure on the health services, but did not protect the over 70s from themselves being infected in their care “prisons”. In most cases the inmates were infected by their carers. However, unlike the inmates, the carers had recourse to the hospitals. The isolation also eliminated – probably as intended –  any chance of the +70s participating in any herd immunity that may develop. In the fight against the Wuhan virus, “Official Sweden” (from government to bureaucrats), has taken the position that the over 70s are not part of the herd and are expendable.

Take this ethical question:

When an 80+ year old in a care home contracts a treatable condition (bacterial pneumonia for example), but is misdiagnosed (assumed) to have the Wuhan virus and, without any further testing, is put on “palliative” care (morphine) leading inevitably to death, is it 

    1. unfortunate accident? or
    2. humane care?, or
    3. negligence?, or
    4. incompetence?, or
    5. euthanasia?, or
    6. justifiable manslaughter?, or
    7. murder?

“Official Sweden” has generally taken the comfortable position that such cases  – and there are more than a few – are all “unfortunate accidents”. I would put it less complacently at 3 on the list above or even higher.

The nice thing about “unfortunate accidents” is that nobody is accountable and nobody needs to take any responsibility.


 

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