Great Britain is suffering from a healthcare crisis far more severe than in the States, which is forcing them to make difficult choices concerning the allocation of resources. There are two diverse views held firmly by two diverse populations:
- cutting costs by withholding care (elderly and chronically ill are expendable), and
- standing firm for the dignity of human life, no matter the cost.
The bulk of any population, though, is in the mushy middle -- being torn by limited finances, a decent sense of filial piety, but also confused by the intense physical suffering that some endure, especially later in life.
That is where this priest, Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith, indicates that a radical shift is necessary so that we don't wander into some black hole of utilitarian horror.
But here is the crunch – if we want to look after our old people well, then it is going to cost us something. The price may not necessarily be one in money. The institutionalisation of old people needing care is very expensive, but there is an alternative – care in the home by members of the family. Most people I speak to think that is preferable: being in the home, not in a “home”; being looked after by your nearest and dearest, not by strangers who are paid to do so. But for this to happen, quite a few social and economic changes would have to take place. Family life would have to change: we would have to move away from more and more people living alone, towards more people living together, particularly in three generational family groups. It would mean more people working in the home and not out of it, and rewarding and valuing such work accordingly.
There are costs and benefits to both home care and collective care. Any caregiver can tell of the burdens, and even the burnout. While nursing homes may have a better standard of delivering meds and meals, these settings are often sterile and deficient in other ways. And both homes and institutions are prone to abuses of all sorts, depending on who is in charge.
What he's talking about, though, is a change in culture. The two "ends of life" -- childhood and old age -- depend on women and how they arrange family life. Many children and old people are "warehoused" so that women can work -- interestingly enough, to pay for their care (through tuitions, fees or taxes). Honestly speaking, as strained as some familial relations are, working any shift is more appealing than having to deal with some people on a daily, hourly basis. But that's where the faith comes in.
We cannot change what happened decades ago, but we can work on our response in the here and now. One must forgive, and learn to love again -- even the unrepentant, those difficult to love, even the most demanding. Truth be told, they touch our buttons, so we must eradicate our buttons. Forgiveness will change the world, and will offer a better life for these families. Sounds impossible, but we must begin -- and we have to consider it now during this economic challenge, because these necessities may land on our doorstep sooner, rather than later.
Shameless plug: I give workshops on forgiveness, and am available to speak anywhere. gskineke [at] gmail [dot] com) -- wouldn't Lent be a great time for me to talk to your women's group?