Support The Bulwark and subscribe today.
  Join Now

Our Parents Are Not Expendable

March 25, 2020
Our Parents Are Not Expendable

For the past few days, concerns about the collapsing economy have led to a growing discussion among some about how much we should realistically do to protect the elderly and more vulnerable among us from COVID-19.

The basic question emerging: Is saving the lives of hundreds of thousands (perhaps millions) of people—most of whom would be in seniors with prior health issues—worth the breakdown of the economy that is throwing millions out of work?

This question was asked—and answered—by Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on a Monday appearance on Fox.

Patrick said:

No one reached out to me and said, “As a senior citizen, are you willing to take a chance on your survival in exchange for keeping the America that all America loves for your children and grandchildren?” And if that is the exchange, I’m all in.

Patrick went on to say, “My messages is that let’s get back to work, let’s get back to living. Let’s be smart about it and those of us who are 70+, we’ll take care of ourselves. But don’t sacrifice the country.”

As a matter of Christian ethics, this is a deeply problematic response.

It is absolutely true that the economy needs to function at a sustainable level so the rest of us can survive and provide for our families. And there is a legitimate concern about the economy and how we battle this disease. How we fight this in a way that considers all relevant factors is an important discussion to have. But, whether we fight this virus in such a way as to marshal all of our resources to save every life we can should not be open for discussion.

President Trump has declared himself a war time president. So, why not treat this pandemic as we would an actual war?

If we are really at war, and if the American way of life is really threatened, then shouldn’t we expend every ounce of our strength and treasure to not just keep the economy running for the rest of us, but also to protect the lives of our parents and grandparents? Isn’t engaging in a fight to save and protect our elders and the weakest among us part of what makes America a great nation? Isn’t that part of our way of life, too?

It will be costly. But then again, America is about to undertake unprecedented spending no matter what we do. Would it cost more to protect our older citizens? Yes. But in for a penny, in for a pound.

Because if the lives of our parents and grandparents aren’t worth sacrificing for, then what is?

As I contemplated these things, I ran across the story of an Italian priest, Don Giuseppe Beradelli, who died last week from this coronavirus. Newsweek reports:

An elderly Catholic priest reportedly died from the COVID-19 coronavirus after refusing a ventilator so that a younger patient could use it instead.

Don Giuseppe Berardelli, 72, died March 15 at a hospital in Lovere, Italy after declining to use the medical equipment that his parishioners were said to have bought for him. Berardelli was a beloved figure well known for helping those with financial problems, as well as for riding on a motorcycle, according to Italian paper Araberara.

Father Beradelli sacrificed his own life so another might live. What makes Lt. Gov. Patrick’s proposal different from what Fr. Beradelli reportedly did is that Patrick is asking our nation to expose some of the most vulnerable among us not so that the rest of us can live, but so that we can enjoy economic prosperity. That is not the Christian view of self-sacrifice centered on the Cross of Christ that values the sanctity of every human life.

I care about the economy. I want America to prosper. I like capitalism and believe it to be a good economic system that has benefitted billions of people. But, if we are at war with an enemy trying to kill my aging and physically vulnerable mother and father, my aunt, my dear church members who are in their golden years, and so many people who loved and taught me all I know, then it seems to me that there is no price too high to pay to make sure that potentially millions of our vulnerable elder countrymen have the best possible chance to survive this thing.

As a Christian, Jesus tells me to love my neighbor, who in this case includes the business owner who is looking at his company going under, the waitress who just got laid off because her restaurant closed, the immigrant laborer who was fired last week as his factory cut back—and our parents and grandparents who cannot now leave the house for fear that they will catch this disease and die a gruesome death in a short period of time.

If we’re not willing to go to war with this virus and fight for all of them, then we’ve already lost.

Alan Cross

Alan Cross is a Southern Baptist pastor, writer, and author of When Heaven and Earth Collide: Racism, Southern Evangelicals, and the Better Way of Jesus, NewSouth Books, 2014.