Where’s kindness and empathy when it’s needed?

06/05/2020

Heather du Plessis-Allan writes of a woman stuck in quarantine as her mother dies :

. . . She thought they were about to say yes today because she heard the PM yesterday say 18 people had been given permission. She thought that meant she was probably going to get a yes too.

Our producer had to tell her the PM was wrong, no one’s been given permission. She started crying on the phone.

Let’s be honest: she might not ever see her mum alive again.

The Ministry of Health is reviewing all 24 requests that they’ve declined, but that review will take most of the week. By then, this woman’s quarantine will probably be finished as she’s allowed out this weekend. But her mum might not make it to the weekend.

And the review doesn’t bode well for anyone else in quarantine hoping to say goodbye to loved ones.  The review’s being by the ministry’s legal team. Does that feel like the very people you’d send in to try to find a way to avoid having to change the decisions?

I don’t know how we’ve ended up with a health ministry so heartless and a Director-General of Health who isn’t sorry that this is happening.

He says his team are empathetic, but they’re not.  They’ve declined all the requests for exemptions. 

I read the judgement last night in the case of Oliver Christiansen and it’s obvious the Ministry of Health doesn’t want to say yes. Either that or we’ve found a collection of the stupidest public servants in the country.

Every time Oliver asked for an exemption on the grounds of ‘exceptional circumstances’, they told him that he didn’t qualify for a medical transfer.

Of course he didn’t qualify for a medical transfer. He wasn’t sick. He wasn’t even asking for that, but they made it sound like that was the only grounds for an exemption, and it wasn’t.

So they’re either stupid or deliberately frustrating people who want to say goodbye to their parents. . .

How heartbreaking it must be to be so near yet so far away from a dying family member; to be stuck in limbo between home and the loved one’s death bed; to be prevented from spending those precious last days or even hours together.

The government has gone from being too slow to close the border and quarantine new arrivals to overseeing a Ministry which is being pig-headed in its refusal to let a few people through on compassionate grounds.

Covid-19 came from overseas and we can’t afford to have the good done by the lockdown undone by slackness at the border again.

But it must be possible to follow protocols to reduce the risk, such as those the court ordered Oliver Christiansen to follow in overturning the MOH’s refusal to allow him to visit his dying father:

. . .The judge said, in her assessment, overall justice “demands an effective and swift response”.

“I have in mind here particularly the imminence of Mr Christiansen’s father’s passing and the very material factor that visitation is only at a private home and not in a public space.”

She ordered the ministry to permit Christiansen to leave managed isolation to visit his father.

But he could only do so if he traveled unaccompanied by car to his dad’s home and remained there until his father died.

Christiansen was also told to maintain physical separation from other family members at the home and to return on his own within 24-hours of his father’s passing in the same car to the isolation facility for the remainder of the 14-day period. . .

If necessary family members could be required to self-isolate for 14 days from the time they had any contact with the traveller as a precaution to further reduce the risk of spreading Covid-19.

The border with Australia will be closed for weeks to months and visitors from other countries will be required to stay in quarantine for a fortnight for much longer. There will be many more people coming to New Zealand to be with dying family members in that time. Protocols must be worked out to allow them to do so safely.

And it’s not just the people in quarantine. Back to Heather:

This has been happening for seven weeks. For the entire duration of Level 4 Lockdown, people were forced to die alone in their hospital beds without any family or friends with them.

The Ministry of Health has lost perspective. In the battle against a disease, it has condemned families to a sorrow that will sit with them for the rest of their lives.

I am not proud of them. I want them to show compassion. I want them to take a dose of their own medicine.

Remember what their boss Ashley Bloomfield and the PM keep telling us? Be kind. They should try a bit of kindness themselves.

Keeping people apart at the end of life is inhumane.

The way the dying and their families have been, and are continuing to be, treated shows a complete lack of  the kindness and empathy we are all being enjoined to demonstrate.

Both must be applied in designing a way to allow families to be together when one of them is dying without risking the spread of Covid-19.


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