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The uncomfortable truth about death The pandemic has forced us to confront our mortality - and that is no bad thing

Death is an essential part of the human condition. Credit: PIERO CRUCIATTI/AFP/

Death is an essential part of the human condition. Credit: PIERO CRUCIATTI/AFP/


January 25, 2021   6 mins

All of us, at some point, have been preoccupied by death – though few more so than Woody Allen. “I’m not afraid of death; I just don’t want to be there when it happens,” he wrote. “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my works, I want to achieve it by not dying.” Such quips invoke a wry smile, but they also cut to the heart of our troubled relationship with death, and our inability to think about it clearly. Over the past year, however, we have all, in some way, been forced “to be there when it happens”.

Almost as soon as the pandemic struck, we developed a morbid fascination with the new coronavirus. Death became a part of daily life: as restrictions were introduced and the rules of society were rewritten, our only constant seemed to be the daily announcements detailing how many more lives had been taken by the new disease.

We have, of course, always been aware that death will come for us all. Yet for most of us, most of the time, we don’t know where, when or how. We don’t know whether it will be sudden or slow, peaceful or painful, surrounded by family or alone while connected to impersonal bleeping machines. The fact that we are aware, from an early age, of being stalked by unknown threats is naturally very frightening. Every fibre of our being drives us to do what we can to avoid it. But it is precisely because of the great influence death has on our lives that is vitally important we think about it more clearly. For as we are now discovering, how we regard our final chapter has important consequences for how we live beforehand.

As a pathologist, I’ve spent more time staring death in the face than most. I have personally performed thousands of autopsies – and if they’ve taught me anything, it’s that while death is inevitable, it needn’t be terrifying. In one sense, that’s because I have never conceived of Pathology, the study of disease, as being focused solely on death; contrary to the popular stereotype, it is all about helping the living.

Every time you have a blood test or a swab, or a doctor takes some tissue for analysis, these samples come to the “path lab”, where pathologists are responsible for making or refining a diagnosis that then informs your doctors which treatments are necessary. Even autopsies are mainly about the living, providing explanations to both the bereaved and clinical teams.

After all, medicine, in all its specialties, is always about caring for the living. Every decent doctor always does their best for every patient, bearing in mind two central tenets of medicine. The first is ancient: first, do no harm. You should never start a treatment unless you are as sure as you can be that it will cause less harm than the disease. The second – prevent harm where you can – is more modern, arising over the last couple of centuries following the spectacular successes of health interventions such as clean water supplies, vaccinations and antibiotics.

But as we are discovering, in unique moments of crisis such as this pandemic, these two principles can come into conflict. The first applies to individuals, while the second often implies society-wide measures that can help some individuals, but at the same time may harm others. Thinking about how to balance these principles is not easy. That became clear last week, when I appeared alongside Jonathan Sumption on the BBC’s Big Questions. During a segment on whether Britain’s lockdown was “punishing too many for the greater good”, his claim that not “all lives are of equal value” caused quite a stir. But it also raised an important question: surely there is more to life than just living and dying?

Death is a brutal endpoint, but no reasonable doctor (or court of law for that matter) makes treatment decisions based simply on whether or not a patient will die. It is also vital to take into account “quality of life”, which is not just some sort of luxury add-on that can be dispensed with in a crisis. It is literally all the things that make life worth living for different people. For an elderly person this may be having a cup of tea with family or friends; for a young sportsperson it may be competitive matches. Take these things away and the old person may die of loneliness, or the young person may tragically end their own life.

But are these life-endings equivalent? Perhaps, on a philosophical level, they are. On a practical level, however, the death of an 85-year-old person from a preventable cause has cost them a few years at the end of life, while a 25-year-old has, on the same calculation, lost over 60 years of life, including their most active and event-filled years. However much people may object philosophically to such discussions, avoiding them in practice can have serious unintended consequences for public policies.

It is uncomfortable to think about, but it seems quite clear to me that when you examine the “quality of life years” lost as a direct result of lockdowns, and compare them to those which would have been lost to the virus had we done nothing at all (which, for clarity, I am not advocating), the former is far greater. This is because you don’t have to die to lose quality of life. Being unable to function properly because of depression, for example, or untreated cancer, or a postponed operation, still results in loss of quality of life – as does merely being confined to your house. Surely no reasonable person can disagree that this loss must be considered when evaluating the appropriateness of society-wide measures that affect all individuals?

I suspect part of the reason we struggle to think about death rationally is that so many of us are reluctant to acknowledge that the human lifespan is limited. There’s something reassuring about clinging to the idea that we can all live forever – or perhaps to 150, which is sufficiently far away that it might as well be forever. But such hopes are misleading.

Yes, the average age at death has increased over the last century or so. But that is because more people are living to nearer our maximum age, not because that maximum age has increased. Medical advances mean that fewer of us die as children, in childbirth, of injuries and infections than used to be the case, meaning that most of us live into our 70s and 80s. The average age has increased in tandem with these advances. But the maximum age possible has not changed: the vast majority of us will still die in our 70s and 80s.

In fact, increases in average age at death have actually slowed down and even reversed slightly in recent years – and there is every biological reason to expect that we are near a plateau for the average human lifespan. Interestingly, that limit is already unusually high. There is a clear relation between lean body mass and maximum lifespan for mammals: shrews live a year, while elephants live for 80. On this basis, humans should live for about 30 years.

The fact that we can live up to three times longer than expected is a remarkable evolutionary feat. It is most likely due to the development of language, which has meant that human parents can pass along a lot of useful information to their children while still learning from their own elderly parents. But after we get too old, our “usefulness” (from an evolutionary, not a philosophical standpoint) runs out. So the expected age at death in the UK – currently just over 81 (which incidentally is a year younger than the average Covid death) is getting close to as good as it will get.

And that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, death is an essential part of the human condition. It may be a frightening prospect, but it can motivate us to get the most out of every single day. You simply can’t put a value on that, which is why putting everyone’s life on hold in the face of a new pathogenic threat would only make sense if that threat were so overwhelming that the very fabric of society was at risk.

Does Covid meet that criterion? Looking at cold, hard data, I am not convinced. Take just one straightforward statistic as an example: healthy under-50s made up less than 1% of apparent Covid-related deaths in 2020 — fewer than 700 of the 72,178 deaths recorded by Public Health England. For comparison, there are around 1,700 deaths a year from road accidents in Britain. When that context is understood, and when we start to accept death as a natural endpoint and quality of life as a vital consideration, today’s morbid climate of fear seems far from justified.

A far more intuitively wise outlook was offered by Jeanne Calment, the world’s oldest ever person. She lived to the exceptional age of 122 years and 164 days. On her 120th birthday she was asked by an over-enthusiastic young reporter “How do you see your future?” Her response: “Short.” If only we could all be so frank. Perhaps then we will be better able to enjoy everything that comes before.

You can call Samaritans for free on 116 123, email them at [email protected], or visit www.samaritans.org to find your nearest branch.


Dr John Lee is a former Professor of Pathology and NHS consultant pathologist


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Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
3 years ago

“You simply can’t put a value on that, which is why putting everyone’s
life on hold in the face of a new pathogenic threat would only make
sense if that threat were so overwhelming that the very fabric of
society was at risk.”

I’d say our fear-fuelled response to the threat of covid is what is putting the very fabric of society at risk rather than the disease itself. This morbid fear of death is causing us to hand over our freedoms to the state all too readily in return for a blanket safety from illness and death which is frankly illusory and a denial of the human condition.

Of course something must be done to counter the covid risk and that requires some level of sacrifice in terms of freedom. However, the level of fear which has spread right across the Western world and the rising admiration for authoritarian systems in the Far East threatens to damage, perhaps destroy liberal democracy – the very source of our success. Perhaps that success has softened us too much.

A little anecdote: Once upon a time, a long time ago, I had a South African boyfriend. He and his friends (living in London at the time) were hard-drinking, hard-smoking, risk-taking party people which, to me, a coddled little kid from the English countryside, seemed bananas. One day, I pointed out to him that this kind of behaviour was probably going to shorten his life. He turned around, laughed and said “sweetheart, where I come from, life is cheap. You could be dead in a week. If you live like that, you make the most of every day.” I think of this exchange often, and even more so during the last year.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
3 years ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

“sweetheart, where I come from, life is cheap. You could be dead in a week. If you live like that, you make the most of every day.”

I would argue that you would only say this if you DON’T expect to die. It is totally meaningless.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

I don’t think it’s meaningless at all. That memory offers me a sense of perspective and some kind of orientation in a life that involves a constant weighing up of freedom and risk according to my own concept of a life well-lived.

Katy Randle
Katy Randle
3 years ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

I don’t think it’s meaningless, either. Carpe diem, in a South African accent.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
3 years ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

It sounds wholly rational provided your friends had accurately assessed the risk.

About 75% of WW2 RAF bomber pilots, or German U-boat crews, became casualties. These are much worse loss rates than kindergarten parties like the first day on the Somme. Someone in one of those jobs knew empirically how dangerous they were and had every reason to act accordingly before their probably very short span ran out. What you describe sounds similar with the hedonism presumably toned down to match the risk.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
3 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Well I guess he had weighed it up, but there was a fair bit of testosterone-fuelled bravado and maybe a misplaced sense of immortality going on too. But, my goodness, who doesn’t think they’re indestructible when they’re young? The way you weigh up and respond to risks changes as you age and also according to experience. I guess he’s calmed down a lot since then…but it sure was fun to hang out with those guys. The Saffas know how to have a good time!

Zach Thornton
Zach Thornton
3 years ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

“rising admiration for authoritarian systems in the Far East”

I don’t believe that there is rising admiration for China in the West. Western media mostly run negative news stories about China regarding their suppression of democracy in Hong Kong, threats to invade Taiwan or attacks against Indian troops on their Himalayan border. Noting that a strict lockdown suppressed the outbreak of Covid-19 is not admiration for China’s dystopian authoritarian regime. It’s hysterical thinking to believe Westerners admire China as the background murmuring in our societies are fear and apprehension for the rising super power.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
3 years ago
Reply to  Zach Thornton

I think you have wrongly interpreted my post. You’re equating China with the Far East when China is only a part of that region. I was thinking more of the kind of admiration for South Korea and Taiwan which I have seen.

You’re right about China in that the dominant feeling in the West is apprehension, but I also perceive a germ of doubt creeping into Western discourse (on covid specifically but also generally) about whether liberal democracy still is the strongest and best societal model for taking on the 21st century in which China will be the dominant superpower. A radical affirmation of liberal democracy is required.

Zach Thornton
Zach Thornton
3 years ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

South Korea and Taiwan are less liberal than in the West but they’re not authoritarian. They permit free and fair elections and have a free press, as examples of their relative openess. These countries are not in the same bracket as China or Vietnam. They’re young liberal democracies that are becoming more open and transparent. It wasn’t long ago that South Korea was a dictatorship so their progress is quite remarkable, in respect of their politics.

Meghan Kathleen Jamieson
Meghan Kathleen Jamieson
3 years ago
Reply to  Zach Thornton

I have been really surprised by the number of people who seem to think China’s approach to covid is justified, and we would be better off if our western governments had similar powers.

Granted they seem to envision some scenario where these powers would only be used appropriately for the greater good. And it’s not a majority by any stretch. But there is a level of naivety about what that kind of power entails that I would not have expected and it has been more people than I expected.

Zach Thornton
Zach Thornton
3 years ago

It’s interesting to note that many nations that were severely impacted by SARS decided to introduce legislation that impacted civil liberties. In South Korea the government had access to personalised location data and used the data to beam messages to people and lockdown locally to ensure any outbreak was quickly suppressed. I have a friend who lives in Seoul and he would say it was worth it. Compare life in Seoul with the hell we’re still enduring and is it any wonder why people are interested in hearing about alternatives?

Stuart Bennett
Stuart Bennett
3 years ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

I know facts are unfashionable these days but you and everyone you know will die and you are unlikely to be able to choose when and how the end arrives. That is an inescapable fact, and the content of your life and what you do with your time and attention is far more valuable than the length of it.

I think Seneca said it best

“If you will pay close heed to the problem you will find that the largest portion of our life passes while we are doing ill, a goodly share while we are doing nothing and the whole while we are doing that which is not to the purpose. What man can you show me who places any value on his time, who reckons the worth of each day, who understands that he is dying daily”

Trishia A
Trishia A
3 years ago
Reply to  Stuart Bennett

People with family to be around them when they die can more easily deal with “unlikely to be able to chose”, but for those of us who are singles with no offspring and no secure retirement, the best decision we can make for ourselves is to plan to depart life with a plan, cuz there’ll be no one around at the end to hold our hand.

Lyn Griffiths
Lyn Griffiths
3 years ago
Reply to  Stuart Bennett

That was deep, yet know where you are coming from.

Lyn Griffiths
Lyn Griffiths
3 years ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

I see your point of view, and there is a need for balance.

nckamdar
nckamdar
3 years ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

“I’d say our fear-fuelled response to the threat of covid is what is putting the very fabric of society at risk rather than the disease itself”
Can’t agree more. But a lot of this is fueled by the media which seems on a mission to keep everyone in a state of perpetual fear. Switching off in more than one way is part of the cure.

Katy Randle
Katy Randle
3 years ago

A level-headed and balanced article; thank you.

You say “Surely no reasonable person can disagree that this loss must be considered when evaluating the appropriateness of society-wide measures that affect all individuals?” Well, the lockdown zealots disagree vehemently. For them, nothing matters but Covid. Those of us whom lockdowns are slowly killing mean nothing to them, even when we express our agony. I’m sure they honestly believe that lockdowns work and there is no alternative; presumably the thought of death from Covid (which is horrible and real) has terrified them so much they simply cannot see the other side of the equation. It sometimes feels like the consensus is that if ONLY we could reach zero Covid, no-one would ever die again. And this denial of the realities of life is the reason why we are no longer allowed to live, but only to exist. Very depressing.

Alison Houston
Alison Houston
3 years ago

Spring 2020
We are the dead, who lie here ill at ease,
You knew not truth, thought death incompetence,
We are the dead, the ones you cannot please.

For fear of freedom is a foul disease
And so is bossiness and arrogance,
We are the dead, who lie here ill at ease.

We see our hard won freedom wither, freeze.
Though death’s the thing you couldn’t countenance,
We are the dead, the ones you cannot please.

We’re gone and yet you could still us appease,
If you nursed freedom, gave her sustenance.
We are the dead, who lie here ill at ease

At birth we start our dying by degrees,
Accustomed to it, feel ambivalence.
We are the dead, the ones you cannot please.

You used us, badly, liberty to seize,
Expect revenge and anger, vehemence.
We are the dead, who lie here ill at ease,
We are the dead, the ones you cannot please.

Andrew Cleverley
Andrew Cleverley
3 years ago

Dying is an inevitable consequence of living. If you’re lucky you get old before it happens but I know plenty who’s luck ran out well before old age set in. The vast majority of Covid deaths have been among the elderly and I sincerely hope that those victims lived fulfilling lives before their passing. But though I certainly wouldn’t advocate doing nothing; I have to question the imbalanced approach that has been taken in order to stem the tide. In essence the present and, more importantly, the future of this country has been sacrificed on the alter of the past. Priority should be given to those who’s lives have yet to be lived; the children and young people of this country. And yet the effect that this pandemic is having on their education and life chances has always been considered a secondary issue. Treat the elderly, yes! Save the NHS, yes! But not at the expense of the young and vigorous.

Jonathan Barker
Jonathan Barker
3 years ago

Westerners (in particular) systematically eliminate death and suffering from their view. Western religion, “theology”, and philosophy is the always-wanting-to-forestall-the-day philosophy that does not embrace death and does not even take it into account.

In our dreadful sanity we acknowledge (in the background of all of our anxiety) that death exists, but we want to avoid it. Our impulse is about positive life-affirmation and wanting life-things, to work out. But, all the while, we are rejecting death and suffering – and, therefor, rejecting surrender to What Is Truly Great.
Real, necessarily Spiritual life is not based on the rejection of death. It is (necessarily) based on taking death into account, and on making the fact of death the framework and the fundamental basis of ones understanding of life and its purpose.
A philosophy (and religion) based on the rejection of death becomes materialism, utopianism, “worldliness”. By contrast philosophy and religion based on the acceptance of death – and, thus, on the understanding of this life, associate (as it is) with death, with ending, with suffering, with limitation – is an entirely different kind of philosophy and religion.and religion. It is the basis for profound Spiritual practice, for the profound surrender and transcending of the (presumed) separate self – aka the “sinner”.

This death denying disposition which is typical of Westerners (in particular) has produced a world wide culture, a society and politics which has reduced everything to the gross, body-based, materialist disposition. A “culture” which now rules to here with devastating results.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
3 years ago

Religion is out of fashion in the UK. Everybody has a view on this, of course, and our views can only really be personal.

For me, there are two types of religious behaviour : those who practise religion and think about it and those who practise it and use it as a crutch to support them in life.

For those who think about it, there is the spiritual life which means that you live your life, basically, for other people (and animals) so that your own death is insignificant. For those who just follow, it is a way of believing that something exists after death and so death, perhaps, is not quite so extreme.

Unfortunately, these two sections can be opposite in effect, with the thinkers leading a useful life and the non-thinkers behaving badly knowing that they will be forgiven later. The one says that war or slavery is bad, the other says that war and slavery is OK if God is on our side. Do we want this second kind of religion?

Brian Villanueva
Brian Villanueva
3 years ago

Jonathan, I felt the same way after reading this article. The pathologist author believes his profession makes him uniquely qualified to pontificate on death and our fear of it. But medical training can not explain that fear. The fear isn’t of our body functions stopping; it is of “the end” of ourselves and what that means.

It is hardly surprising that we fear death more as our religiosity declines. God provides a small crack in the door through which we can glimpse the post-death world. Without it, death feels not like door waiting for us to enter, but a brick wall waiting to smash us.

Trishia A
Trishia A
3 years ago

That’s nonsense. I’m a third generation atheist, actually, anti-theist, and most atheists I know are way less fearful of death than the faith-ers I know. And I’m old and lived in many places, so I’ve known a hell of a lot of them people.

Trishia A
Trishia A
3 years ago

In fact, it’s a dogmatic “Pro-Life” position, with all the prejudice that implies.

Fred Atkinstalk
Fred Atkinstalk
3 years ago

Excellent article, fascinating reponses.

However, unless I have missed it, no-one has highlighted the obvious difference between death – i.e. being dead – and death, the process of dying.

The worry about Covid is, of course, that the process of dying is so appallingly wretched. But then so are a lot of causes of death : it’s just that our society has little experience of them, unless they have a close relative who has gone through a truly dreadful experience.

Being scared of being dead is a bit like being scared of being asleep – hardly logical or reasonable. But being scared of the death process is entirely understandable, and will remain so until society gets to grip with the idea of controlling the process, and until a few cruel and frankly sadistic individuals stop trying to claim the ‘moral high ground’ by inflicting suffering on others by prolonging and exacerbating the death process.

Sue Roberts
Sue Roberts
3 years ago

Well said Fred, couldn’t agree more

Claire Olszanska
Claire Olszanska
3 years ago

But are you saying the individual has no right over whether or not they live or die regardless of quality? Most would go for quality but if you are a true believer in equality then that view is perfectly acceptable.

Trishia A
Trishia A
3 years ago

It’s only retched because the hospitals stretch it out. Otherwise, when octogenarians die of pulmonary and other ILIs, it’s quite quick. We can also offer palliative care and shorten the misery.

Fred Atkinstalk
Fred Atkinstalk
3 years ago
Reply to  Trishia A

If palliative care shortens the misery, then is that not the same as accelerating death (i.e. assisted suicide)?

Also, if you are dying in distress because of breathing difficulties, even if it is “quite quick” then I bet it feels like an eternity. Or, to take a bad analogy, would you consider waterboarding to be tolerable if it was “quite quick”?

Trishia A
Trishia A
3 years ago

Possibly UnHerd’s most brilliant article ever. The approach needed to this illness is not medical intervention, but a more rational state of mind.
People all around us have lost track of reality.

Claire Olszanska
Claire Olszanska
3 years ago
Reply to  Trishia A

The reality is 1000s of people being admitted to hospital gasping for air. What are medics supposed to do? Let them suffocate? I hope you never experience it – if you had you wouldn’t be so blasé about something you obviously know nothing about.

G Harris
G Harris
3 years ago

My favourite saying comes from one of my heroes, John Maynard Keynes, and that is that ‘we’re all dead in the end’.

Purely on objective evidence, Sumption is absolutely correct.

Not all lives are ‘equal’, and I would go so far as to say that ‘objectively’ that that is bordering on a truism, although for some it is still apparently contentious.

Be it because they are oversensitive, idealistic types or maybe just because it offers a choice opportunity for some virtue signalling, I couldn’t possibly say.

Either way, overwhelming evidence to the contrary says that they’re wrong.

This government, with no opposition incidentally and along with a good many others across the world, seems to believe that it can effectively legislate against the inevitable fate that awaits us all.

It and they can’t, and yet some, apparently a sizeable majority, still believe they can.

I make this point time and time again to those who like to imagine that they are somehow selflessly ‘saving lives’ whilst presuming I’m apparently prepared to selfishly and expediently sacrifice them.

If it were otherwise healthy, young, productive people dropping like flies in this technical pandemic, like say during the vastly worse Spanish Flu pandemic, then I too would be calling, nay screaming for action, but nothing, and I mean nothing I’ve seen so far genuinely suggests that this is the case.

Chronic problems are, by their very nature far easier to prepare for, manage and deal with than acute.

Covid is an acute, arguably unforeseen problem profoundly affecting a relatively few number of people largely of a certain age and predominantly with existing preconditions that render them more susceptible to it.

Perhaps rather unsurprisingly the systems were not in place to deal with it and whether they actually should have been is another question entirely, but one thing’s for certain, the apparent ‘cure’ here is turning out to be many, many, many times worse than this disease ever would have been.

Claire Olszanska
Claire Olszanska
3 years ago
Reply to  G Harris

Yet Sumption says every life is precious and is against assisted dignified death. Bit of a contradiction there. Look up his record as a judge. He picks and chooses when and what life is important. He likes having his cake and eating it – typical libertarian.

Charles Rense
Charles Rense
3 years ago

No, death is not inevitable, and by God we will make life so miserable for everyone that they commit suicide until we achieve everlasting life!

Claire Olszanska
Claire Olszanska
3 years ago
Reply to  Charles Rense

Love it!

Athena Jones
Athena Jones
3 years ago

Excellent article.

Good to see this often ignored reality stated….

QUOTE;Yes, the average age at death has increased over the last century or so. But that is because more people are living to nearer our maximum age, not because that maximum age has increased. Medical advances mean that fewer of us die as children, in childbirth, of injuries and infections than used to be the case, meaning that most of us live into our 70s and 80s. The average age has increased in tandem with these advances. But the maximum age possible has not changed: the vast majority of us will still die in our 70s and 80s.

PEOPLE DO NOT LIVE LONGER. THERE ARE JUST MORE WHO SURVIVE THE FIRST FIVE YEARS BECAUSE OF IMPROVED LIVING CONDITIONS,
WHO BULK OUT THE LONGEVITY.

The years we might live have not changed but one could argue that never before has older age brought such poor health, beginning in younger years. Over-medicated, over-vaccinated, over-tested, too much elective surgery clearly does not improve health in young or old.

Alka Hughes-Hallett
Alka Hughes-Hallett
3 years ago

Where have you been DR Lee ? I relished your articles at the beginning of the pandemic but somehow didn’t read more from you for a long time. Welcome back !
I agree on everything you wrote except
“It is uncomfortable to think about, but it seems quite clear to me that when you examine the “quality of life years” lost as a direct result of lockdowns, and compare them to those which would have been lost to the virus had we done nothing at all (which, for clarity, I am not advocating)”
I think we need to be advocating – do nothing at all or do the minimum ( or as GBD prescribed) because the physical & mental health of “our herd” as a whole depends on the ability to take some pain . As a nation we have been too lenient on ourselves. The result is an obesity pandemic and sheer mad dependency on medicine to stay alive. This pain would have been a wake up call . But instead this pain has perversely been shifted to the whole nation, opening wounds that puts most of its population in a vulnerable state. So what we have done is weaken the entire population so that they should to go at the same pace as the elderly, the vulnerable and the irresponsible.

Alan Thorpe
Alan Thorpe
3 years ago

Missing from the discussion of quality of life is why the medical profession do not support voluntary euthanasia. I am determined to do everything possible to prevent the misery of my final years in a care home and that will mean attempting suicide if I suspect the care home is looking probable. My body. my choice as they say.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago
Reply to  Alan Thorpe

People can be pressured into euthanasia. They can also feel pressured into it even if there is no actual pressure. It’s not a black and white issue.

Andy Gibson
Andy Gibson
3 years ago

Thank you for this refreshing view on a morbid topic!
I watched you alongside Lord Sumption and was heartened by your pragmatic but sensitive view of both covid and lockdown, I glean from this article that dealing with death as you do would enable you to develop these qualities. Your response was, in my humble opinion, in direct opposition to prof Calum Semple who used emotive language, fear but very little factual analysis.
I have come to wonder if Governments and the medical profession are not in complete dereliction of their duty by not adopting the Great Barrington approach. Public health is for all, not just a narrow focus of covid, it covers ALL age groups and health conditions.
Why are frail, elderly and vulnerable people who ARE at risk of death from covid not being protected and shielded from this disease? As a society it is incumbent upon us to protect those most at risk, and this includes not just those who might die of covid, but also cancer, or suicide or those at risk of losing their jobs, mental health etc.
If the virus is as out of control as the government tell us it is, why are they not doing what they did in March and telling the at risk group to shield? Why are the old and vulnerable out in Tesco putting themselves at risk and risking overwhelming the NHS? Perhaps because they think they are safe because they are following the letter of government guidance.
Surely a more sane and common sense approach would be for all over 60s (if they choose to, they can assess their own level of risk) to stop work for a period of, as Dr Gupta says, 3 months, allow society to open up, that mitigates the health risks to all other age groups, and starts up the economy. We then come together as a society, young helping old, and work together to find SOLUTIONS to shield at risk people. Using a laser sharp focus and all the money saved from furlough to perhaps house those in multi generational households in hotel accommodation ( so we can’t blame students for killing grandma) etc… FOR 3 MONTHS.. and get kids back to school IMMEDIATELY. It’s worth a try as what we are doing just isn’t working.

Claire Olszanska
Claire Olszanska
3 years ago
Reply to  Andy Gibson

They are telling the at risk group to shield. What parallel universe are you living in!?

Andy Gibson
Andy Gibson
3 years ago

Hopefully one where people can converse civilly with one another. If you read carefully you will see I am echoing the approach that all at risk groups and those over 60 shield for 3 months..

Claire Olszanska
Claire Olszanska
3 years ago
Reply to  Andy Gibson

All the at risk people I know have been shielding since day one. They still are. The phrase you use is one that is over-used and means nothing. What feasible strategies are in place for the vulnerable apart from locking themselves up for eternity? What about their mental health? What about the contribution they make to the economy – if they were allowed out? Truth is in the UK we have no strategy at all for dealing with this. And can we stop blaming people for dying and being an inconvenience.

Andy Gibson
Andy Gibson
3 years ago

Hmmmm, all very finger wagging and toe tapping Claire, touche.
Perhaps it’s time to park unhelpful attitudes and let those who sincerely want to protect those who are vulnerable of dying from covid, whilst also mitigating the impact on the rest of society have a grown up debate to try and get us out of this mess. Nay sayers are welcome to shout from the sidelines.

Claire Olszanska
Claire Olszanska
3 years ago
Reply to  Andy Gibson

I’m certainly not finger wagging. I am wholeheartedly behind protecting the vulnerable and getting life back to some mortality. Sadly in the 10 months since this began there seems to be little strategy into how to protect the vulnerable other than do not leave your homes. And not all vulnerable are old. There are many young people with disabilities and illnesses that need shielding. I’m all for grown up discussions about life valance but most commentators on here can offer no other advice than to shield. Once someone can come up with practical measures of support for this then the conversation can begin. Locking them all up is not the only answer.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago

Shielding is necessary for the elderly and vulnerable. There is no better way to protect them.

Claire Olszanska
Claire Olszanska
3 years ago

Oh I agree but here in the UK we seem to have made a hash of it.

Claire Olszanska
Claire Olszanska
3 years ago
Reply to  Andy Gibson

Lock them all up then. The vulnerable and especially the old. Why not create camps for them? For their protection obviously.

Andy Gibson
Andy Gibson
3 years ago

Claire having read your posts you are basing your responses using highly emotive and antagonist language. I do not wish to engage in this type of toxic two and fro. It adds nothing to this debate but bile and distance between both sides. I am looking to engage in healthy discourse.
I hope you can do so also.

Claire Olszanska
Claire Olszanska
3 years ago
Reply to  Andy Gibson

OK I acknowledge your response. I agree that shielding should take place but there are little or no suggestions from authorities of how to do this. There are huge practical implications for doing so. As I have said before all the vulnerable people I know have been shielding or being very careful. Once we can establish where and how the over 60s are catching this virus and more importantly being admitted to hospital then we can move forward. Although that seems irrelevant now seeing as all over 50s should be vaccinated by end of March. People in care homes have caught it and are still catching it because it is being brought in – why is that? Where is their shielding. The reason I get emotional is because the tone on a lot of these threads is one of annoyance that there are old and vulnerable people who are being inconvenient to society. The solution suggested is to take them out of society, and that I find a slippery slope. I believe it was suggested all over 60s stay at home. The irony is this group is the one more likely to keep the high street open and support small local businesses. My parents – in late 80s – before the virus spent more on eating out and buying clothes (well not my father) in a week than I do in two months. I’m sorry if I sound toxic – I can be very sarcastic I grant you, but I will not stop standing up for those who are deemed a nuisance by society. Lack of planning has caused our catastrophe – an abysmal failure to protect our most vulnerable. It’s shameful.

John Alexander
John Alexander
3 years ago

Death is part of life. Its the end of this part and the start of a new dimension. There is no option so don’t let fear overcome you or it will consume you. Its an emotion like hate. You are in control. “You have power over your mind, not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” ” Marcus Aurelius

Peter KE
Peter KE
3 years ago

Good article, a pity SAGE, PHE and the rest of the stupid people cannot have a more balanced view in dealing with the covid virus. The Swedish model offers a clear and reasonable alternative and allows for the majority of life to be more normal. Unfortunately the U.K. government has failed and continually made missteps.

Johnny Sutherland
Johnny Sutherland
3 years ago
Reply to  Peter KE

Unfortunately the U.K. government has failed and continually made missteps.

To be fair so have pretty much all governments around the world.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
3 years ago
Reply to  Peter KE

To echo what Mr Revealed said below, Sweden is like a big empty space with just reindeer for company. Nothing like London or Birmingham.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

I’m sorry but I’ve spent a great deal of time in Sweden and it is totally unlike the UK in every way. Here you get in the car and drive and you come to a town in a couple of minutes. Not so in Sweden.

Anna Borsey
Anna Borsey
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Don’t be stupid. Reindeer only live in the remote far north of Sweden (as well as Norway, Finland and Russia and Siberia) – mainly north of the arctic circle.

Sweden is the 4th largest country in Europe in terms of geographical size; the population is now only ca 9 – 10 million (exact figures do not exist as there are so very many illegal migrants living there “underground”, unofficially) and that is why it appears to be vast and empty.

Andy Gibson
Andy Gibson
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Your geography teacher would be appalled!

Caroline Milne
Caroline Milne
3 years ago

I think what Government has been trying to do all through this pandemic has less to do with protecting the elderly and more to do with protecting the NHS.

Something we might consider is how we would like to die. For me, dying in hospital is to be avoided at all costs. No more so than under present circumstances when staff are overwhelmed and family must keep their distance.

I am also acutely aware of the impact this pandemic has had on the younger generations and the toll this is taking in terms of mental health. My daughter and my daughter-in-law have bothered been more or less confined to the home with very young children 24 hours a day for almost a year now. My daughter’s anxieties are spiralling out of control.

Lock down or no, I remain on call incase I am needed. We must work out our own priorities and act according to our consciences.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago
Reply to  Caroline Milne

I agree with you with the exception of the dying in hospital part. It’s not always the worst choice. Yes, it would be bad right now to die in a hospital if it’s overwhelmed but death is not always neat and clean. In fact, it was be extremely messy and awful. I have a friend who died at home of brain cancer in the most awful state you can imagine. I wish her children had been spared the reality of what death does to a body sometimes. It isn’t always the way it’s depicted in the movies, serene and tidy. Sometimes it is better to die with the support of nurses, I so wish my friend’s children had not had to see and clean up the end results and I think she would have rather had that as well had she been able to make a choice.

My daughter is in the same boat as yours. I feel your pain and anxiety.

David Uzzaman
David Uzzaman
3 years ago

The inevitably of death is something we need reminding of often. There’s a lot of nonsense talked about saving lives when what’s actually happening is postponement. I’m fast approaching my three score and ten I try to treat every day as a bonus.

James Moss
James Moss
3 years ago

This takes us into the same philosophical cul-de-sac. It is not just about the deaths. The quality of my remaining life years will be impaired if my body is permanently damaged – for example if my lungs are scarred. The quality of my current life years are being impaired by the threat of a rampant virus. Suppressing Covid doesn’t just reduce the (statistically small) chance that I die, it reduces the other two things too. For those who wish to do cost benefit calculations, these both need to be factored in.

Trishia A
Trishia A
3 years ago
Reply to  James Moss

The stats for the so called “long-haulers” are not significantly worse than any other flu.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
3 years ago

Fortunately, we do appear to be slowly waking up to the benefits of personally managing death – rather than pretending it isn’t going to happen.

Even though the U.K. seems amongst the slowest to adopt “dignity in dying”, it is starting to make some headway.

Maybe when we’ve got our heads around that, the obvious benefits of accepting mortality early – and without fear – will start to accrue.

Religious concepts of ‘fire and brimstone” are a tragic drag on progress … whereas more early education reminding us that we are pretty much “the same as daffodils and squirrels” could be a great accelerator.

TIM HUTCHENCE
TIM HUTCHENCE
3 years ago

A thought provoking and interesting piece. Thank you Dr Lee.

stephen f.
stephen f.
3 years ago

Thanks for this-and most especially the quoted: “short”. I laughed out loud.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
3 years ago

The reason why COVID is more shocking than it logically ought to be is that, in modern times, whenever someone we know dies, it’s almost always due to something that just befell them. People die of some cancer, or of heart disease, or if they’re old they have a fall and develop pneumonia in hospital.

What they do not generally do is die of some infectious disease that they caught off somebody else while going about their blameless life. The person who dies of pneumonia in hospital didn’t catch it off the patient in the next bed. In no other case than COVID can you go from healthy to dead in a month.

Of course there a handful of exceptions to this generalisation. You can still catch and die of HIV. Nowadays the risk factors for HIV are well known, and most people have changed the behaviour accordingly. Probably at least some who now contract HIV were choosing to run some of these risks.

COVID is uniquely frightening because you don’t need to do anything obviously risky to catch it. You don’t need to be a needle-sharing junkie; you just need to have coffee in the wrong place. Once you do, how it affects you is also dumb luck. Some people feel like they’ve had a cold. Others, like Kate Garraway’s husband, spend 10 months in a coma. Others die painfully and frighteningly in a month, with no rhyme or reason.

The not-entirely-rational response to it is surely driven substantially by these features.

Johnny Sutherland
Johnny Sutherland
3 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

My view is that the reason we are running so scared is that the media, main stream and social, have been telling us to panic ever since it began. They tried it with AIDS, SARS, MERS, bird flu etc and didn’t succeed. This time they hit the jackpot.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
3 years ago

AIDS did indeed discriminate, despite the claims in the state advertising campaign; most people understood this and were correctly unfazed. The other two you mention never turned into the pandemics warned of, unlike COVID.

If you’re suggesting that there is no danger from COVID you’re off your trolley. Someone in my family died of it last Wednesday after a month’s illness. He was thin and healthy, and it destroyed his lungs and suffocated him.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
3 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Exactly! If you are young and not surrounded by family you think that the lockdown is stopping you from having your fun or, maybe, halting your career. In the middle of a large family you can really see the pain.

Johnny Sutherland
Johnny Sutherland
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Personally old and only surrounded by my wife. Any other family down in England – I’m in the highlands.

Andy Gibson
Andy Gibson
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

This trope of the youth only wanting to go out and get drunk is tiresome and downright condescending. Young people have suffered throughout this time too and it is just selfish and imbecilic to think otherwise.

Trishia A
Trishia A
3 years ago
Reply to  Andy Gibson

Yes, it’s called living.

Johnny Sutherland
Johnny Sutherland
3 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

If you’re suggesting that there is no danger from COVID you’re off your trolley.

If you re-read my post you’ll notice I refer to our reaction – running scared – we are. There is a danger from COVID but its been mightily overhyped. I’d expect Black Death level of threat for the current approach.

On the second part of your statement you could be right. Umpty months of lockdown with ever changing rules will do that to yoiu.

Joe Smith
Joe Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Flu, pneumonia and other respiratory viruses don’t spread by magic. Covid is only uniquely frightening to some because the media and govt have been banging on about it almost every day for nearly a year, therefore people don’t have any perspective about it. Availability bias and fear, they’re a deadly combination.

Trishia A
Trishia A
3 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

That’s not quite true. Every single year, nosocomial “surprise” deaths are leading causes of deaths in the West:
-99,000 nosocomial deaths every single year in the US
-37,000 nosocomial deaths every single year in the EU (Nat’l healthcare works)
-8,000-12,000 nosocomial deaths every single year in Canada
Hospital mismanagement is a leading cause of sudden deaths in our society, but we’re not supposed to talk about these, we’re only allowed to applaud “healthcare”.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
3 years ago
Reply to  Trishia A

Those are absolutely trivial numbers. 37,000 out of 300 million in the EU implies about 7,000 in the UK of about 600,000 deaths annually. This is barely 1% compared to things like dementia, cancer, heart diseases etc. Those who do die of something infectious are almost invariably elderly and wouldn’t have died otherwise. COVID infects and kills people who aren’t elderly.

richard steele
richard steele
3 years ago

I’m trying to convince my spouse that we should set up our funeral service, buy a plot, maybe cremation. But, she wants to put it off. In America, we say that death is an option. Frankly, I’ll be delighted to wrap things up; no more laundry or intermittent bouts of constipation, or fretting over the bills. Death! Oh, what a feeling!

Andrea X
Andrea X
3 years ago
Reply to  richard steele

“… and one short sleep past we wake eternally and death shall be no more, death thou shalt die.”

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrea X

When I look at my work calendar I’m forced to wonder if that would be a positive development.

Athena Jones
Athena Jones
3 years ago

Surely what we need to ponder is how we treat people in old age who are sick? Covid is a risk to them but so is everything – drugged daily, treated like machines, poor food, inferior quality of life – milking them to make money.

Trishia A
Trishia A
3 years ago
Reply to  Athena Jones

Over the last 100 years, government policies have forced people to live to 80 rather than 60, and 20 of those extra years are unhealthy.
We delude ourselves that we’re living longer, but really, we’re all just dying way slower.

Claire Olszanska
Claire Olszanska
3 years ago
Reply to  Trishia A

Twaddle. A lot of my grandmother’s generation lived to late 80s to late 90s. She was born 1907 and in nearly all cases they led active and fully conscious lives until the last 1-2 years of life. If you think being 60 is a cut off point you would have denied my grandmother another 37 years of life (the last tear not so good) and her friends and family about 28 to 35 years of pretty good health and quality of life. Where has this ageism come from?

Joe Francis
Joe Francis
3 years ago

Whatever about the virus, the reaction to it has been unhinged in a way it would not have been in previous generations. I suspect a lot of that has to do with the collapse of organized religion. If I’m right, few people fear death; if you believe it just results in oblivion, what is there to fear in that? What they’re really afraid of is the same thing the believers are – judgement.

Michael Whittock
Michael Whittock
3 years ago

Our society is petrified of death and we do all we can to avoid thought or mention of it. One avoidance strategy is to assume that after death everybody goes to Heaven and family relationships are maintained. It is assumed that these are Christian beliefs which they are definitely not. Christianity proclaims that there is life after death but our eternal destiny depends on our response to Jesus Christ, the Son of God whose Death and Resurrection has made it possible for all who believe in Him to enjoy the life of Heaven.
The writer seems to suggest that life expectancy is settling around 70-80. He calls this the “maximum age” beyond which the vast majority of us will not advance. This is the natural span of life to which the Bible refers in Psalm 90.10 – “The length of our days is 70 years , or 80 if we have the strength”.
The writer also points to a very difficult dilemma. Is the lockdown worth the negative effect of mental health deterioration and delayed cancer treatment etc. compared to saving the lives of elderly patients who will probably die within a few years anyway. Medical science enables us to keep people alive unnaturally in the sense that they would die without life-support. The DNR ( do not resuscitate) measure can be applied in this situation which makes sense to me. But where there is life every effort should be made to care for them. Quality of life can be found in the most basic and simplest of things. Just being alive and loved was enough for my 95 year old mother-in-law in the final year of her life which included surviving Covid.

Steve Gwynne
Steve Gwynne
3 years ago

Regarding Lord Sumpton, I personally agree that on an ecological level, not all lives are valued equally. In fact, from an ecological perspective, the universal right to life is an anthropocentric fiction since it undermines the Life Death relationship that underpins the sustainability of LIFE.

In this respect, human life and nonhuman life are invariably valued differently. Similarly, in terms of ecological sustainability, resilience and sufficiency, some nonhuman life will invariably be valued higher than some human life. Similarly, in order to conserve the principles of sustainability, resilience and sufficiency in terms of our ecological wellbeing, then invariably, some human life will be valued higher than some other human life.

Thus, in every instance, the ecological question is which actual lives are more important than actual others???

In this respect, Lord Sumpton’s mistake was to frame the repudiation of the universal human right to life in purely humancentric terms. In my opinion, the repudiation of the universal human right to life can only be legitimately contested at the ecological or ecocentric level.

Andy Gibson
Andy Gibson
3 years ago

This is a brilliant article, however the tone and antagonism of some of the discussion below is so very disheartening. Unherd is a place for grown up debate and analysis of serious topics. I like to read responses, get opinions from other view points, information to look into further. People post links and give tips on further areas of interest. However some of this thread is quite toxic to the point of vitriolic. Some seem so entrenched in their opinions that they are unable to even allow others to air theirs in an open forum such as this.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
3 years ago

Unfortunately, this site and others attract people who argue about death as a statistical thing. It is the nature of the cleverer person to justify all things by statistics because figures seem to be impartial. So the discussion is often of excess deaths – the lockdown, perhaps, should be stopped because older people are dying and they are going to die anyway. Why spoil things for young people?
I can see both sides of this argument but I would state categorically that those who spend the day discussing excess deaths do not expect to die themselves, they do not have someone close who is terrified of a lingering Covid 19 death and, more importantly perhaps, they are ignoring the fact that people who catch Covid 19 and survive may well have a life where they can’t behave in a normal way because of damaged lungs.
I live in an old mining community and I have met people who have lived a life with pneumoconiosis. In an argument about the safety of mining, I would guarantee that the discussion would be about deaths and not about those who survive but in a terrible state of health.

LUKE LOZE
LUKE LOZE
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Almost everyone knows someone who’s old/vulnerable and worried about Covid, so that’s a none starter.

I can quote individual deaths, illness and depression all caused by lockdown. And many more to do with niether Covid not lockdown.

Statistics is sometimes a way of weighing millions of tragic events, the big picture.

The current statistics show that Covid is causing a lot of excess deaths and has crippled the health service to the worst position in decades.

Other statistics tell us to put Covid in perspective, some young people will have suffered over a year of near house arrest, seen there futures ruined including their health – all for a virus that is of tiny risk to them. How we balance these 10s millions against the very real risk to 10 millions vulnerable is important. The argument of “don’t kill 1 granny” must be countered with “How many millions of kids lives are you willing to continue ruining for that?”

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
3 years ago
Reply to  LUKE LOZE

OK. I can at least understand you now. Your view is correct as a thinker’s view. I can also quote deaths which have been caused by Covid in the sense that somebody could not get treatment because everybody was too busy with Covid.
However, I think that the figures will have different effects on non-thinkers. There is a difference between a responsible and careful return to normality – which I believe is correct – and a return to ‘Party, Party, Party’. For every thinker there could be 1000 non-thinkers who behave stupidly (for everybody else).

LUKE LOZE
LUKE LOZE
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

I doubt there’s 1000 to 1 non-thinkers.

Lockdown restrictions and some of the modelling around them is based on some false presumptions.
1. Everyone will comply to the spirit and letter of the law.
2. No one will have taken any protective action without the law.

In short those who’ll ‘party’ most are probably already doing so already. 400 at a wedding, huge numbers at funerals, house parties etc. Those who act responsibly will continue to do so.

The biggest danger could be the likes of Hancock and SAGE experts threatening everyone with future lockdowns. I fear this will make more people treat any easing of restrictions and temporary and literally party like there’s no tomorrow.

Lyn Griffiths
Lyn Griffiths
3 years ago

Analysis – As someone who is fascinated by death and also believes and is aware there is no firm confirmation. But still believes we live many lives as we travel down paths to enlightenment and eventual Nirvana. Your article was informative and has given me much to consider. Thank you.

Chris Milburn
Chris Milburn
3 years ago

Wonderful, well written article. Thank you for taking the time to clearly express your wise thoughts.

Todd Kreider
Todd Kreider
3 years ago

“So the expected age at death in the UK ““ currently just over 81 … is getting close to as good as it will get.”

Not according to Harvard geneticist George Church who told 60 Minutes in December 2019 that there will be age reversal for humans from around 2030.

Ocxl Ocxl
Ocxl Ocxl
3 years ago

wonderful, well thought through article, thank you

David Bottomley
David Bottomley
3 years ago

To me, the key thing here is not so much are the Covid national restrictions justified but have they been applied in the right way – have we got the right sort of measures. I am still astounded that, across the world’ countries haven’t focused on protecting and supporting the vulnerable and old ( it is they who take up hospital space and resources) and letting the rest get on with their lives ( as we have Benn quite happy to allow school children). If just fraction of the costs of national lockdowns had instead been spent on massive supporting of old/ vulnerable to lockdown / shield then the world would be in a much better and happier place . Instead of which we have managed to shut down society and kill a lot of old and vulnerable people and badly damaged national and global economies

Arild Brock
Arild Brock
3 years ago

Thank you for those sensible considerations. People dying from or with Covid are already at maximum life length. This is in my opinion really a good argument for letting society run as normal. We must accept natural death.

If you don’t accept that, is there a point in arguing further? I am not sure, but let me try. On my part I suspect the lockdown and other Covid-measures are driven by other forces than love for the elderly. Love? Well, love is one of the most important things that make life worthwhile. If, say, elderly people are not able to see their loved ones, they are already deprived of one of the most important things making life worthwhile.

I also find it very healthy to remind ourselves of traffic death, as done by Lee, and what we can call natural death. Every month one thousandth of the population die. In a flu also people die with, and more or less from, the flu. In the past they did so in silence. Now each «Covid-related death» is counted carefully. How many of these deaths are caused by the measures rather than the disease itself? You actually do not have to step out of the realm of the vulnerable to be sceptic to the measures; also regarding the vulnerable I see good reasons for questioning the net value, even the net HEALTH value, of the lockdown and other measures.

Among other things I would ask if somebody with medical authority could please shed light on the following question: How many deaths are caused by what we could call a negative placebo effect? «Mrs. Smith, I must tell you something ““ you have Covid.» How many 85 year old people would die partly from the horror now associated with this particular message? (This is not something health personnel can prevent; it’s on a collective level.) Plus how many die from the combination of Covid and, say covid-related loneliness? Moreover, for many elderly it is a point not to be a burden to the young. The lockdown and other Covid-measures impose a huge burden on «the younger society» allegedly to benefit the elderly collectively. How many die from that burden or from wanting to escape being a burden?

So what forces are at play if not love for the elderly? I would say confusion, at best. We are not very good at dealing with old age and death, particularly here in northern Europe. Italy has more «Covid-related deaths», I take it, but elderly people are less separated from the young and tend to live longer than in e. g. Germany or UK. Perhaps driven by a kind of bad conscience towards the elderly we now do the wrong thing. I believe we have to extend our collective consciousness. We should not calculate on «life quality years», however, and thus take up a God-like position (in replacement of «God is dead»?). Rather we should seek (back to) something natural, including accepting natural death.

david.kirk2291
david.kirk2291
3 years ago

Much as I have enjoyed reading all the replies to this article, the article was about death. Dr Lee’s main point seem to be able to be summarized as follows. “Š. ‘I suspect part of the reason we struggle to think about death rationally is that so many of us are reluctant to acknowledge that the human lifespan is limited. There’s something reassuring about clinging to the idea that we can all live forever ““ or perhaps to 150, which is sufficiently far away that it might as well be forever.’ “Š Many of his other points (and those who replied) concern the over-reaction to the pandemic, the great majority of which I agree with. Mainly that, those who have died have been elderly and generally suffering other illnesses. Thus they are up in arms about the lockdowns and the reduction in civil liberties. However, for the most part they fail to understand that the pandemic is NOT the problem, but the problem is the Hospitals being overwhelmed, which they nearly are, but they are also nearly overwhelmed every winter. However, to move back to the original point, to which Dr Lee alluded, most people have been forced to think of the meaning of death (and also life) by the constant statistics about death on the media, even though they are extremely unlikely to die from Covid 19. However in comparison to previous centuries we have been anesthetized about death. Until the early 1900s many families will have suffered the death of one or more of their children. Likewise, many families will have known of adults who died relatively young. Figures from ONS state. Just over a century ago the average life expectancy at birth for a man was 48.4 years, whereas women could expect to live to 54.0.
Fast forward from 1915 to 2015 and a man’s life span extended by 31 years and almost 29 years for a woman (79.3 and 82.9 respectively). In 1915, people were dying in large numbers from infections………. In earlier centuries Dr Katharine Olson (History Extra 10/7/20) notes causes of death as follows:
1 Plague 2 Travel 3 Famine 4 Childbirth 5 Infancy and childhood. Infancy was particularly dangerous during the Middle Ages ““ mortality was terribly high. Based on surviving written records alone, scholars have estimated that 20″“30 per cent of children under seven died, but the actual figure is almost certainly higher.
6 Bad weather 7 Violence 8 Heresy 9 Hunting 10 Early or sudden death. Sudden or premature death was common in the medieval period. Most people died young. Peasants in the English manor of Halesowen might hope to reach the age of 50, but by contrast poor tenants in same manor could hope to live only about 40 years. Those of even lower status (cottagers) could live a mere 30 years”Š”Š”Š”Š”Š”Š”Š”Š”Š”Š.. So, history shows death as an ever present reality. In addition, the Church had significantly more influence over people than it now does. This is not to say that it’s beliefs or actions were particularly Christian or based on the Bible, witness the search for heretics, the attempts to influence politics, and the general lack of a moral lifestyle by significant numbers of the church leadership. However, it can be surmised that the Churches influence and some of it’s theology on death and the Resurrection were known by most people. However, if we now fast forward to the present, we can see the influence of the church is minimal and the role of the saviour Jesus has been superseded by the NHS and state which looks after us from birth to grave. It could even be suggested that the Church is a mouthpiece of the state as it has said nothing of note about the ever present reality of Death and peoples need to face up to it. We have a secular humanistic media which always endeavors to put forward their own agenda and minimalize any Christian voice. However, with this pandemic, they have now been hoisted on their own petard. They have screamed headlines day after day about a rampaging virus which is causing mayhem and death. To up the ante, they have humanised the virus and used such terms as ‘rampaging’ for the new variant, which people think will ambush them should they have the temerity to leave their house. However, having created a state of fear in people that they may die, they have no answers. They have no Hope because their world view is based on an evolutionary materialistic framework which allows no space for death or the afterlife. They are caught becalmed in an existential sea of their own making. Having rejected formal spirituality, they need to create their own. I heard a comment on the radio to the effect ‘ If the NHS collapses, we will have lost part of our soul’. I did laugh at this pitiful attempt to inject a ‘spiritual’ value using their own failed philosophy.. Thus, by their own imagination they have created a plague like virus, but they can go nowhere, because they have no answers to the most important questions of life (and death) as they report the death statistics every day. Hence the very real anxieties that people are suffering these days as they try and understand what is occurring without having the true knowledge to comprehend the realities of Life and Death.

david.kirk2291
david.kirk2291
3 years ago

Much as I have enjoyed reading all the replies to this article, the article was about death. Dr Lee’s main point seem to be able to be summarized as follows. “Š. ‘I suspect part of the reason we struggle to think about death rationally is that so many of us are reluctant to acknowledge that the human lifespan is limited. There’s something reassuring about clinging to the idea that we can all live forever ““ or perhaps to 150, which is sufficiently far away that it might as well be forever.’ “Š Many of his other points (and those who replied) concern the over-reaction to the pandemic, the great majority of which I agree with. Mainly that, those who have died have been elderly and generally suffering other illnesses. Thus they are up in arms about the lockdowns and the reduction in civil liberties. However, for the most part they fail to understand that the pandemic is NOT the problem, but the problem is the Hospitals being overwhelmed, which they nearly are, but they are also nearly overwhelmed every winter. However, to move back to the original point, to which Dr Lee alluded, most people have been forced to think of the meaning of death (and also life) by the constant statistics about death on the media, even though they are extremely unlikely to die from Covid 19. However in comparison to previous centuries we have been anesthetized about death. Until the early 1900s many families will have suffered the death of one or more of their children. Likewise, many families will have known of adults who died relatively young. Figures from ONS state. Just over a century ago the average life expectancy at birth for a man was 48.4 years, whereas women could expect to live to 54.0. Fast forward from 1915 to 2015 and a man’s life span extended by 31 years and almost 29 years for a woman (79.3 and 82.9 respectively). In 1915, people were dying in large numbers from infections………. In earlier centuries Dr Katharine Olson (History Extra 10/7/20) notes causes of death as follows: 1 Plague 2 Travel 3 Famine 4 Childbirth 5 Infancy and childhood. Infancy was particularly dangerous during the Middle Ages ““ mortality was terribly high. Based on surviving written records alone, scholars have estimated that 20″“30 per cent of children under seven died, but the actual figure is almost certainly higher. 6 Bad weather 7 Violence 8 Heresy 9 Hunting 10 Early or sudden death. Sudden or premature death was common in the medieval period. Most people died young. Peasants in the English manor of Halesowen might hope to reach the age of 50, but by contrast poor tenants in same manor could hope to live only about 40 years. Those of even lower status (cottagers) could live a mere 30 years”Š”Š”Š”Š”Š”Š”Š”Š”Š”Š.. So, history shows death as an ever present reality. In addition, the Church had significantly more influence over people than it now does. This is not to say that it’s beliefs or actions were particularly Christian or based on the Bible, witness the search for heretics and witches, the attempts to influence politics, and the general lack of a moral lifestyle by significant numbers of the church leadership. However, it can be surmised that the Churches influence and some of it’s theology on death and the Resurrection were known by most people. However, if we now fast forward to the present, we can see the influence of the church is minimal and the role of the saviour Jesus has been superseded by the NHS and state which looks after us from birth to grave. It could even be suggested that the Church is a mouthpiece of the state as it has said nothing of note about the ever present reality of Death and peoples need to face up to it. We have a secular humanistic media which always endeavors to put forward their own agenda and minimalize any Christian voice. However, with this pandemic, they have now been hoisted on their own petard. They have screamed headlines day after day about a rampaging virus which is causing mayhem and death. To up the ante, they have humanised the virus and used such terms as ‘rampaging’ for the new variant, which people think will ambush them should they have the temerity to leave their house. However, having created a state of fear in people that they may die, they have no answers. They have no Hope because their world view is based on an evolutionary materialistic framework which allows no space for death or the afterlife. They are caught becalmed in an existential sea of their own making. Having rejected formal spirituality, they need to create their own. I heard a comment on the radio to the effect ‘ If the NHS collapses, we will have lost part of our soul’. I did laugh at this pitiful attempt to inject a ‘spiritual’ value using their own failed philosophy.. Thus, by their own imagination they have created a plague like virus, but they can go nowhere, because they have no answers to the most important questions of life (and death) as they report the death statistics every day. Hence the very real anxieties that people are suffering these days as they try and understand what is occurring without having the true knowledge to comprehend the realities of Life and Death.

david.kirk2291
david.kirk2291
3 years ago

Much as I have enjoyed reading all the replies to this article, the article was about death. Dr Lee’s main point seem to be able to be summarized as follows. “Š. ‘I suspect part of the reason we struggle to think about death rationally is that so many of us are reluctant to acknowledge that the human lifespan is limited. There’s something reassuring about clinging to the idea that we can all live forever ““ or perhaps to 150, which is sufficiently far away that it might as well be forever.’ “Š

Many of his other points (and those who replied) concern the over-reaction to the pandemic, the great majority of which I agree with. Mainly that, those who have died have been elderly and generally suffering other illnesses. Thus they are up in arms about the lockdowns and the reduction in civil liberties. However, for the most part they fail to understand that the pandemic is NOT the problem, but the problem is the Hospitals being overwhelmed, which they nearly are, but they are also nearly overwhelmed every winter.

However, to move back to the original point, to which Dr Lee alluded, most people have been forced to think of the meaning of death (and also life) by the constant statistics about death on the media, even though they are extremely unlikely to die from Covid 19.
However in comparison to previous centuries we have been anesthetized about death. Until the early 1900s many families will have suffered the death of one or more of their children. Likewise, many families will have known of adults who died relatively young. Figures from ONS state. Just over a century ago the average life expectancy at birth for a man was 48.4 years, whereas women could expect to live to 54.0. Fast forward from 1915 to 2015 and a man’s life span extended by 31 years and almost 29 years for a woman (79.3 and 82.9 respectively). In 1915, people were dying in large numbers from infections……….
In earlier centuries Dr Katharine Olson (History Extra 10/7/20) notes causes of death as follows: 1 Plague 2 Travel 3 Famine 4 Childbirth 5 Infancy and childhood. Infancy was particularly dangerous during the Middle Ages ““ mortality was terribly high. Based on surviving written records alone, scholars have estimated that 20″“30 per cent of children under seven died, but the actual figure is almost certainly higher. 6 Bad weather 7 Violence 8 Heresy 9 Hunting 10 Early or sudden death. Sudden or premature death was common in the medieval period. Most people died young. Peasants in the English manor of Halesowen might hope to reach the age of 50, but by contrast poor tenants in same manor could hope to live only about 40 years. Those of even lower status (cottagers) could live a mere 30 years
So, history shows death as an ever present reality.
In addition, the Church had significantly more influence over people than it now does. This is not to say that it’s beliefs or actions were particularly Christian or based on the Bible, witness the search for heretics, the attempts to influence politics, and the general lack of a moral lifestyle by significant numbers of the church leadership. However, it can be surmised that the Churches influence and some of it’s theology on death and the Resurrection were known by most people.

If we now fast forward to the present, we can see the influence of the church is minimal and the role of the saviour Jesus has been superseded by the NHS and state which looks after us from birth to grave. It could even be suggested that the Church is a mouthpiece of the state as it has said nothing of note about the ever present reality of Death and peoples need to face up to it.
We also have a secular humanistic media which always endeavors to put forward their own agenda and minimalize any Christian voice. However, with this pandemic, they have now been hoisted on their own petard. They have screamed headlines day after day about a rampaging virus which is causing mayhem and death. To up the ante, they have humanised the virus and used such terms as ‘rampaging’ for the new variant, which people think will ambush them should they have the temerity to leave their house. However, having created a state of fear in people that they may die, they have no answers.

They have no Hope because their world view is based on an evolutionary materialistic framework which allows no space for death or the afterlife. They are caught becalmed in an existential sea of their own making. Having rejected formal spirituality, they need to create their own. I heard a comment on the radio to the effect ‘ If the NHS collapses, we will have lost part of our soul’. I did laugh at this pitiful attempt to inject a ‘spiritual’ value using their own failed philosophy..

Thus, by their own imagination they have created a plague like virus, but they can go nowhere, because they have no answers to the most important questions of life (and death) as they report the death statistics every day. Hence the very real anxieties that people are suffering these days as they try and understand what is occurring without having the true knowledge to comprehend the realities of Life and Death.

Hilary Easton
Hilary Easton
3 years ago

The value of a life cannot only be measured in years though. As you point out, humans are unique (not sure about that) in living long past their reproductive age, but this is not likely to mean that those post-fertile people are ‘useless’ to the survival of the tribe. That is a result of applying individualistic criteria to social animals. The survival of social animals depends on the whole tribe. The experience of the oldest is of great value to the tribe, as long as they are prepared to use it. I would cite many people who have made their most valuable contributions is extreme old age: David Attenborough, The Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela, etc.

Even with some animals, notably elephants, the memory and experience of the very oldest can save the whole herd on occasions of very unusual circumstances like a drought that has gone on much longer than usual. The very oldest who remember the last time this happened may know where to go to find the last waterhole. (I saw this on a documentary). There are other animals where post-fertile individuals provide invaluable help with the young.

The average age of death from Covid may be 81, but the ICU wards are crammed with people in their 30s, 40s and 50s. They may survive but only if the hospitals have the capacity to help them. The ‘underlying conditions’ that make these people so easy to dismiss are mostly asthma, diabetes and so on, conditions with which one would normally live a full life. If the virus is left ‘to rip’ then a great many more young people are likely to succumb.

Another reason why the elderly are more likely to die is that their care is rationed, as in when they are sent home or to care homes to die.

Arild Brock
Arild Brock
3 years ago
Reply to  Hilary Easton

You write: “The average age of death from Covid may be 81, but the ICU wards are crammed with people in their 30s, 40s and 50s.” This, I must admit, is new to me. This makes me “think again”. But you also say that the hospitals are well filled every winter. Would that be by the “same” people in their 30s, 40s and 50?
It must be of importance to distinguish between impact on (health and) health-service caused by the particular features of the covid-19 virus itself and the (possible) impact caused by a (possible) particular social and political condition + reaction.
I suspect the current reaction to be less than purely rational. I suspect the reaction to be driven by psycho-social dynamics that we understand less than well. To the extent that the reaction cannot be satisfactory explained as a rational reaction to the virus itself, we need to look for other explanations by which we can understand ourselves, our condition, and indeed our mission, better.

Hilary Easton
Hilary Easton
3 years ago
Reply to  Arild Brock

To clarify my statement that the ICUs are filled with younger people, I meant young people with Covid, not general illnesses. I base this on various reports by nurses and doctors that I have read and seen on news reports on tv. I’m afraid I don’t have the time to search for the and give links. Sorry.

David R
David R
3 years ago

Article ignores a few incovenient truths:
1. Left unmanaged, covid would overload the nhs for a year or two. Kill 1-2-3million british people because we wouldnt have enough care capacity. It wouldnt just kill 1%.
2. Left unmanaged, the virus is free to mutate into more virulent forms.
3. Our standing in the world would be greatly diminished if we took this approach.

The comparison posited in the article is a false one. Which i guess is why the author baulks at choosing the ‘let it rip’ strategy.

steveevans946
steveevans946
3 years ago
Reply to  David R

Heavens! Where on earth do you get your so-called inconvenient truths? 1-2-3 millions deaths from Sar Cov-2 without lockdown? Look at Sweden, a very similar population density to the UK, even a similar age distribution. Sweden essentially asked people to be sensible, had very mild restrictions and, according to the FACTS, ie all-cause deaths for 2020, Covid made no statistically significant difference at all.

The argument made, that we should look at quality of life years lost, is incontrovertible. Ruining millions of people’s lives to add perhaps 3-6 months to the life of an 82 year old is complete madness.

Claire Olszanska
Claire Olszanska
3 years ago
Reply to  steveevans946

Why are they increasing restrictions then?

Trishia A
Trishia A
3 years ago
Reply to  David R

The proper model was the Diamond Princess ship. 0.37% lethality, on a crowded vessel, with all communal activities and spaces, average age 69, few docs, no lockdowns, the illness basically did what it will do. Maybe the seniors on cruises are a tad more healthy than sedentary seniors. There was NO reason to fear this coronavirus.