It’s all about the science — “Follow the science,” our governor repeatedly instructs us. Anyone who disagrees with any COVID-19 related restriction the state chooses to impose upon Minnesotans is ridiculed as anti-science.
It’s a groundless charge. It’s not about the science. It’s about who dies. It’s about how much suffering the state may justly impose in its efforts to determine who dies. It’s not about the scientific data. It’s about our response to it.
We get the science: The virus spreads from infected people to others. Precautions must be taken. People must be safeguarded. While not dangerous to a sizable majority of individuals, the virus is perniciously dangerous to some, and their lives matter. We get it.
Yet despite widespread agreement on the science, our governor can be trusted to push back against all who oppose the containment strategies promoted by his emergency orders with a dismissive insistence that these troublemakers are science-deniers, willing to throw research to the wind in quixotic disregard of protective protocols. Such dismissiveness does not betoken elitist knowledge of research. It reveals insecurity.
Perhaps this pardonable insecurity is fed by the subconscious recognition that this is really about determining who dies. It’s also about the degree of suffering and the forms of metaphorical death a society should countenance in order to reduce COVID-19 deaths.
In seeking answers, the governor’s counselors are scientists, epidemiologists, biochemical researchers, physicians and the like. Their vocation is to identify and counteract physical disease. Thank God for them. They are vital to the well-being of our state. We stand in solidarity with these experts as we face the bitter reality that many people have died from coronavirus. We also commend the governor for laboring to protect life. His duty to triage is impossibly difficult.
However, we must calculate more than COVID-19 deaths. We must also calculate spikes in overdose deaths (see USA Today, May 8). We must consider the self-inflicted deaths of those pushed over the brink by COVID-19 containment measures.
A renowned health expert specializing in depression predicted suicide will claim more lives in 2020 than COVID-19 in some states (Epoch Times, June 18, 2020). A simple online search reveals alarming spikes in suicide rates in some places. It is impossible to calculate the percentage of these suicides one might rightly subtract from the number of elderly citizens spared by protective measures. Nonetheless, such statistical imprecision does not erase all correlation.
There are also metaphorical deaths caused by pandemic protocols. We must mourn the death of innocence suffered by children in the spike of child extortion, molestation and neglect attributable to stay-at-home orders (see Star Tribune, May 18).
No one can quantify the lifelong suffering some of these children will now endure. Something in the soul of a schoolgirl in Minneapolis died in a dark enclave created by a stay-at-home order which extended the life of an octogenarian living in a St. Paul nursing home.
While we cannot objectively tabulate the correlation between these cases, we must not dismiss their interrelatedness. No victory in the fight against COVID-19 can rest in the number of lives spared. The matter is more complex.
We must also mourn the deaths of small family businesses flattened under the heel of the governor’s emergency orders. We must account for the suffering of recent college graduates, once poised to merge into a vibrant job market, now destined for less economically prosperous futures. Lost jobs, reduced hours, diminished pay must be calculated.
We must also account for the incalculable percentage of primary and secondary students suffering educational impoverishment in home environments ill-fitted to home education. Best Buy’s chief operations officer, Mike Mohan, hinted at such fallout when reflecting on his company’s spike in gaming sales: “Clearly, if you have kids at home, and you cannot be the best teacher in the world, a substitute has become a Nintendo Switch or an Xbox or a PlayStation” (Star Tribune, May 22). Imagine!
The argument that fighting the novel coronavirus is a straightforward matter of following the science is reductionist. It is a grisly task to choose who will die and how many deaths in a given sector are tolerable. The responsibility to oversee such triage is an unenviable task; but explanations claiming that science settles everything ring hollow.
Suffering is inevitable in this crisis. The question is how much are we willing to suffer to preserve the physical lives of the most vulnerable among us, a preponderance of whom are well into the twilight of their years?
While I do not pretend to have the answer, I am convinced we are following definitions of death that are too narrow. I am convinced we are applying definitions of life that are too simplistic. I pray our governor will heed more than the voices of scientists and politicians in his circle of counselors.