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Editorial: Human Worth, Dementia, Loss

14 January 2021

2020 was a miserable year. It is difficult to imagine 2021 being any worse. There are only flickering lights at the end of various dark tunnels. At the time of writing, Joe Biden has just won the US presidential election, and this is a welcome relief, but the defeat of Trump does not mean the end of Trumpism. We may hope that the new Biden-Harris leadership will repair some of the damage caused across the USA and the world by the Trump phenomenon. But the dark clouds that have been gathering since 2016 will hardly be dispersed soon.

As for the pandemic, much rests on the hope of a vaccine becoming available to everyone this year. Again, we are warned not to be too optimistic. We offer you this issue not as an escape from our ongoing ‘covid woes’ – that would be a dereliction. Rather, we are delving into one of the darker corners of the covid disaster, to address first its impact on the lives of those in residential care homes linked with the devaluation of social care. Those suffering from dementia are among those most affected by policies which do not give ‘equal worth’ to all human lives. We include some wider aspects of social care for those who suffer various kinds of loss. Inevitably all these subjects must be pondered in the context of the pandemic which has so dominated our thinking and our lives for the past nine months.

As with many other social trends and problems, the pandemic has exposed or accelerated weaknesses that were already clamouring for attention. The increasing prevalence of dementia in older people is one of those trends. Since the onset of the pandemic, its challenge has a new intensity. Moving on from our last issue’s concentrated theological focus on the ‘meaning’ of the virus, we now address some of the more practical ethical dilemmas which people involved in many kinds of Care have had to face.

Chris Swift, who envisioned the greater part of this issue, leads off with his careful assessment of how human life has been valued or devalued in the context of 2020, in particular highlighting the neglect of older people in residential care. He urges serious ethical analysis both now and in the future. Our thanks to him and those he invited to write for us.

The two following articles focus more closely on dementia-related themes, offering a certain balance and deliberate counterpoint to each other. Andrew Cozens with his long experience in public policy and social services spells out some implications of social care failures in recent times. Peter Keverns offers in response a theological basis by which we may more confidently back up that critique and undergird new social policy.

This prompts a brief detached comment on a constant question around any aspect of Christian Social Ethics. It is, for this journal, the question of where we should stand. For as Nigel Biggar has written (Behaving in Public, 2011): ‘...recent Christian ethics has tended to present us with a choice between two options: either a “conservative” biblical and theological seriousness, which is shy of attending too closely to public policy; or “liberal” engagement with public policy, which is theologically thin and bland’. Like him, we aim to resist that choice, and yet combine the best of both approaches. Please tell us whether we are succeeding – and whether you’d like us to veer more towards one of these ways, or another!

Whereas a unifying theme usually runs through the main articles of each issue, we have noted that this pattern may become a little exclusive, so we want to diversify more often, as to an extent we do in this issue.

Thus Jo Sadgrove broadens the whole picture of our response to the pandemic by drawing on her experience of cultures in the global south. Societies with stronger communal fabric than our own are able to show us what social care really might and does mean. Her thoughts have deep implications for the Church and the churches in our atomised societies.

David Wheeler has experience with those who have been bereaved as a result of the murder or homicide of a loved one. He argues that, partly owing to mistaken biblical interpretation, the aim of forgiveness for offenders has prevented the right kind of help for victims. And he would apply this case to a wider range of sufferers or victims. In our Forum piece, John Daniels offers a more subversive slant on post-covid ethics, which would do away with redundant old truisms in favour of radical new ways and truths. Read at your own risk!!

Book Reviews follow on, as always. We are most grateful to all our reviewers for their keen insights. I add special thanks to Andrew Hayes for his diligent and professional work in the role of book reviews editor, which he has just passed on to Jenny Leith. We thank her too, with full confidence, for newly taking on this role.

And finally, a direct request to you, our loyal readers. We hope that when questions are provided at the end of articles, they help to clarify your reflection and actually get discussion going with others, in whatever way you may have it.

We earnestly desire feedback about this please. Are the questions any help? What else can you say to us about recent issues? We do not bombard you with emails like most organisations under the sun. The most that I can do is to give you my email here and now, and ask for your feedback (of any kind) to:

Alternatively, if you prefer, you can send comments or correspondence to our managing editor Anna Lawrence, whose details are always on our first page. Or engage with us via Twitter or through our website. Thank you and good wishes for 2021, on behalf of our board and our publishers.

Edward Cardale, Editor