As I write, Victoria’s death toll is 650, and we have recorded 59 new deaths from coronavirus in the last 24 hours, “following the delay in reporting of aged care fatalities in July and August”.
You know all this loss will have been that much harder for the adult children and grandchildren unable to hold the hands of their loved one as they battled against the havoc coronavirus wreaks on older bodies.
Of all the people you may expect to effectively tell all those grieving and those worried about losing family members to suck it up for the sake of the economy, until this week I would have put former prime minister and one-time trainee priest Tony Abbott at the bottom of the list.
He’s the devout guy for whom all life is so precious the decision or need to end even a very early stage pregnancy is morally wrong. I recall how hurtful it was for many women whose circumstances he could know nothing about when Abbott decreed “abortion is the easy way out”.
Last year, addressing a Sydney rally to protest against decriminalisation of termination in NSW, he offered similarly inflexible, pro-life rhetoric saying “you don’t have to be a Catholic, you don’t have to be a Christian … you don’t have to believe in anything other than the basic decency of every other human being” to be against terminating the beginnings of human life.
This stance seems shockingly at odds with Abbott’s implication that people at the other end of the life cycle who catch the coronavirus should be allowed to pass away because living in “health dictatorship” lockdown is too hard on the economy.
He said in a speech in London, “In this climate of fear, it was hard for governments to ask ‘how much is a life worth?’ because every life is precious, and every death is sad, but that has never stopped families sometimes electing to make elderly relatives as comfortable as possible while nature takes its course.
“Governments have approached the pandemic like trauma doctors instead of thinking like health economists trained to pose uncomfortable questions about a level of deaths we might have to live with.”
Quite apart from the callousness of the “deaths we might have to live with” comment when taken in context of the real-time suffering of so many Victorians, this stance seems entirely at odds with Abbott’s statements about the sanctity of even potential human life (and his denial of women’s right to choose what happens to their own bodies).
Surely if you believe in “the basic decency of every other human being”, then protecting aged members of the community who have lived hard-working and much-appreciated lives from preventable, premature and lonely death by COVID-19 is also the definition of decency.
On Father’s Day in 2015, Mr Abbott told The Daily Telegraph of his dad, Richard: “This year my dad turned 91 and with each passing year I better appreciate what he has done for me.”
Tony Abbott, I can thoroughly relate. And as Father’s Day rolls around and I am still blessed enough to have one, I’ll take policies that protect our elders from potentially terrible suffering – and us from losing them before we must – any day.
Wendy Tuohy is a Sunday Age senior writer. Twitter: @wtuohy
Wendy Tuohy is a Sunday Age senior writer.