Rory Kinnear – actor/playwright son of comedy legend Roy – has made a heartfelt plea for change after his disabled sister died of the coronavirus.
In a Guardian article, he makes it clear that Covid-19 was the cause of sister Karina’s death – not underlying issues that some have pleaded mean we should say people like her died with the disease.
She had suffered a lack of oxygen at birth that caused severe brain damage, had been left paralysed from the waist down after a life-saving operation on her spine aged 19, had been intubated and suffered kidney damage six years ago with sepsis and was in hospital with chest infections regularly throughout her life.
She was, therefore, at extremely high risk of death if she caught Covid-19.
Mr Kinnear wrote: “Karina’s death is what we have feared ever since the disease took hold so rapaciously in Italy in February. Her lung capacity was so diminished that we knew, given the reports of its effects, that it was likely to prove incredibly dangerous for her.
“Her conditions weren’t just ‘underlying’, they were life-defining, for her and for us, even if she remained unaware of their severity.
“So it was coronavirus that killed her. It wasn’t her ‘underlying conditions’. Prior to her diagnosis, she hadn’t been in hospital for 18 months – an unusually care-free period for Karina.”
In a barb at all those who try to play down the role of Covid-19 in the deaths of people with disabilities, he continued: “No, it was a virulent, aggressive and still only partially understood virus that was responsible, a virus that is causing thousands of people, despite the unstinting bravery of the medical staff of this country, to say a distanced goodbye to relatives who would still be alive had they not contracted it.
And he continued in the same vein, attacking the attitudes that suggest people with long-term health conditions who catch the disease should be left to die, rather than taking up the resources of a badly-stretched health service that could be used to help able-bodied people instead.
“Her death was not inevitable, does not ease our burden, is not a blessing,” he wrote. “She was vulnerable, yes. She needed the care of others to live.
“But this disease is not just killing people who would have died soon anyway. It is making the lives of those most in need of our care and compassion even harder, even more fearful.”
He was right. People with disabilities have been relegated to a position lower than animals in the coronavirus crisis.
Those claiming benefits have seen their claims put on hold, with no consideration for the strain it puts on their finances – strain that could worsen their health or even kill them.
Those appealing against benefit refusal are also in limbo, facing exactly the same threat to their health.
And those who contract the coronavirus are facing an agonising death after doctors across the country were told to place “Do Not Attempt Resuscitation” orders on their cases.
We have heard of instances in different parts of the UK, and NHS leaders have made public statements that these orders should not be used without consultation with individual patients – but still the deaths come.
The conclusion is clear: somebody has said that disabled people catching Covid-19 should be left to die.
Mr Kinnear’s sister was not simply left to die; she was provided care to the end of her life. And while his article does criticise current government and societal attitudes, he is much gentler than This Writer would have been.
“If there is anything that I hope might come from Karina’s death, from the tens of thousands of other deaths caused by this disease and its insidious spread, it is that as a country, from government both national and local, we might make our focus the easing of those lives in the future,” he wrote.
The implication, of course, is that there is no focus on such easing now.
Referring to a line by Yeats that “All things hang like a drop of dew upon a blade of grass”, he wrote: “For many people though, as it was for my sister’s life, that sense of fragility and peril is a constant.
“Maybe we might transfer our common sense of purpose, our shared determination to ‘defeat’ an ‘enemy’ that ‘preys’ on the needy, once ‘the fight against coronavirus’ has been ‘won’, to invest – financially and emotionally and with a similar level of heroism and selflessness – in the lives of those who will continue to need it most.”
Well, it’s nice to have hope.
But in a nation ruled by Conservatives who believe every person living with a disability is, as the Nazis described them, a “useless eater” who takes resources that would be better given to the super-rich…
In a nation where public opinion has been whipped up against people with disabilities to the extent that they have been assaulted in the street for no reason other than being different…
In a nation where doctors are quietly signing their death warrants before they even catch Covid-19…
It is a forlorn hope.
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