Not hard to show heart
CAMPAIGN URGES LEADERS TO MAKE COMPASSIONATE CHOICES
AUSTRALIANS were left shaking their heads this week over the story of Memphis Francis, the immunocompromised toddler who was denied permission to return to his family’s isolated Queensland property because of strict border closures.
The three-year-old had been stuck with his grandparents in regional NSW since early July, his distraught mum, Dominique, left to worry about what the poor boy must have been thinking.
“Does he think that I don’t want him, does he think he has done something wrong,” Ms Francis asked.
Queensland Heath’s initial refusal to grant Memphis an exemption – dubbed a “profound moral failure” by Health Minister Greg Hunt – was the latest in a series of similar stories that have shocked and saddened Australians since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Time and again, we have seen premiers, chief ministers and bureaucrats holding firm in the face of human suffering. While their health orders have kept the public safe, in some cases the rigidness has seemed unnecessarily stern and cruel, leaving many wondering if in the battle to stay healthy, we are losing our humanity.
One of the saddest cases to emerge was in Victoria in May, when the family of eight-year-old Cooper Onyett were refused the right to hold a full funeral for the boy after he drowned while on a school camp.
The pleas of Cooper’s mother for an exemption were knocked back, a decision she said had made a difficult time even worse.
“We’ve got a whole school that’s mourning for a friend,” she told 3AW’s Neil Mitchell.
In a few cases – as with young Memphis – state health authorities have eventually relented after sustained public pressure, suggesting the rigid enforcement of the rules is at least partially a matter of optics, rather than the public health risk per se.
At times the proposals cooked up by the health bureaucracies have seemed bizarre, as was the case last September when 39-year-old Brisbane father Mark Keans, dying of brain cancer, was told only one of his four young children could see him before he died.
Mark’s sister Tamara Langborne told The Project the family had been told to “give up” on their request, and the one-child rule had forced the siblings to have an impossible conversation.
“They don’t understand how they can’t just go and see their dad,” Ms Langborne said.
Eventually Queensland Health changed its decision and allowed all four kids to visit, albeit dressed in full PPE, and with no physical contact allowed.
News Corp Australia launches our new series Show a Heart, imploring our leaders and health bureaucrats to show a little more compassion and humanity in their decision making around such cases.
We do not ask for health orders to be overturned, or ignored. The campaign simply suggests that with rising rates of Covid-19 vaccination around the country, the risk inherent in some of these
requests for health order exemptions is far less than it was even a few months ago.
The rejection of requests has left people broken.
Some families who requested exemptions have spoken of the way in which their requests were knocked back, with a soulless email, rather than a sympathetic phone call.
Ethics Centre executive director Simon Longstaff said showing a degree of kindness and compassion should be a starting point for governments, and not some kind of luxury. “In general, [govern
ments] should appeal to the better nature of the public, rather than treat every issue as a challenge of enforcement,” Dr Longstaff said.
Even so, higher vaccination rates would “change the ethical landscape completely” and allow governments “a greater range of possibilities” about how they managed exceptional cases, he said.
“When we began this whole journey 18 months ago . . . there was nothing else you could do if you wanted to save people’s lives. But the moment vaccines became a
realistic possibility then that opened up a whole new approach,” Dr Longstaff said.
One frequent objection to health order exemptions is that they might open the floodgates to other requests, but Dr Longstaff said governments should trust the goodwill and common sense of the people.
“I think ordinary Australians will understand, just because that person is given an exception to see someone who is dying and who they love, that doesn’t mean I’m let off the hook when I’m not in a similar situation,” he said.