The prime minister’s former adviser, Dominic Cummings, tweeted an image with “who do we not save?” ahead of his explosive testimony to parliament on the government’s handling of the pandemic.
The answer from Britain’s disabled community would likely go something like this: “Thanks, Dom. But I think we knew what the answer to that question would be before it was even asked.”
And the stats show it. A majority of the thousands of needless extra deaths as a result of the vacillating ineptitude at the heart of government were made up of people with disabilities and/or long-term health conditions.
The impact upon us has been savage. So, I’m sorry if I’m not willing to give the government the sort of credit for the vaccination programme my fellow Britons seem minded to offer.
From where I’m sitting, that’s a bit like saying, “Come on, the bloke who cut your legs off without anaesthetic? Give him some credit. He applied a tourniquet afterwards.”
The sad fact is that the British state sees disabled people only in terms of a drain on resources. We are thus expendable; second-class citizens at the best of times. And this is far from the best of times.
The pandemic has thrown up more than one example of that. Remember the debates that were held over who would get treated and who would not if hospitals were overrun in the early stages of the crisis? I do. My wife was desperately afraid of what might happen if I got hit sufficiently hard by the virus.
Or how about the scandalous use of do not resuscitate orders? In March, I wrote about the Care Quality Commission’s report on their use during the crisis.
I’ll refer to it again here because it speaks to the callous attitude of the British state, and its answer to the chilling question Cummings tweeted.
A survey conducted by the regulator found that 30 per cent of individuals with a DNACPR (Do not attempt cardiopulmonary resuscitation) in place weren’t aware of it. The same was true of 28 per cent of relatives and/or carers. QED?
This, remember, is a country that ministers have repeatedly (and offensively) described as a “world leader” in disability rights.
If Britain is that, what does that say about everywhere else? Do they shove all the wheelchair users, people with visual or hearing impairments, people with learning difficulties and so on in a walled-off compound like Zack Snyder’s zombie-infested Las Vegas and then drop whatever bare rations can be spared in by helicopter every few weeks?
Read the UN report excoriating the government for trampling on the rights of its disabled citizens if you think I’m exaggerating.
Amid all this tumult, it has rather flown under the radar that a bill to legalise assisted suicide was presented to parliament this week. That might not seem linked, but it is.
Advocates of such a change argue that they act out of compassion and with the aim of alleviating horrific suffering. Many otherwise compassionate people, including those who don’t display the government’s contempt for their disabled fellow nationals, find themselves in some sympathy with this.
Shouldn’t people have the right to do what they want with their own bodies, and be able to seek assistance if they can’t and if they wish to end their lives in the face of torment?
In a country whose leaders were debating “who do we not save?”, in which the otherwise admirable health service was unilaterally deciding not to resuscitate people and which continues to make demonstrably false claims about disability rights, is it any wonder that disabled people fear this is the thin end of the wedge?
Is it any wonder that a substantial number of us believe this is a deeply dangerous road down which to go, however strong the “safeguards” put in place to prevent abuse might be? They weren’t strong enough for the people slapped with DNACPRs, were they?
It’s been said before, but I’ll repeat it again, the focus should be on helping disabled people to live, and on educating people on the value our lives have. I’m not seeing much sign of that at the moment.
If you are experiencing feelings of distress and isolation, or are struggling to cope, The Samaritans offers support; you can speak to someone free of charge over the phone, in confidence, on 116 123 (UK) or visit the Samaritans website to find details of your nearest branch