Stop treating us like children – let us have a grown-up discussion about lockdown's moral trade-offs

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Credit: Charlotte Graham

It is a cruel form of imprisonment when behaving well gets you a longer sentence. Government officials have almost said this in so many words: because the country has shown itself to be extraordinarily responsible and conscientious in adhering to the rules of the lockdown, it will be subjected, at the very least, to another three weeks of it. That is to say, an indefinite period of time (sometimes mooted to be 18 months) in which we must accept a suspension of normal life that would normally be regarded as unthinkable in peace time.

This decision is, apparently, not to be expanded upon or exposed to examination. Whatever governmental thinking there is on any future reconsideration of this indeterminate sentence, it will not be disclosed.

538prom精品视频在线播放If the edict itself is alarming in its apparent limitlessness, the prohibition on any discussion of future options is, as has been widely noted, positively insulting. In effect, we can only be trusted to act like rational grown-ups so long as we are not confused or distracted by any additional information. If this really is their view, then the government and its advisors must think much more highly of themselves than they do of us.

538prom精品视频在线播放It was they, after all, who came up with that resoundingly effective mantra (“Stay home, protect the NHS…” etc) which managed to permeate the brains of what they clearly see as a rather dim populace.

When confronted with the devastating economic consequences, the cost in mental health and the sheer impossibility for many people to function in this lockdown when no hint can be given of its end, Cabinet ministers fall back on what may be dubious grounds for confidence.

T538prom精品视频在线播放he overwhelming public support being reported by opinion polls for the lockdown measures is certainly a credit to that brilliant messaging campaign of which (I am sure|) the government is very proud. It is also a credit to the profound decency of the population. But it must be taken with all the usual reservations that we have learned to apply to polling.

How many people, when asked if they approve of the lockdown – which they have been told over and over again will protect the NHS and save lives - are likely to tell the pollsters that they do not approve? This kind of reluctance to admit your true feelings, when you have been given the overwhelming impression that such feelings are morally reprehensible, has been the bane of opinion polling for many years. Which brings us to the matter that can be avoided no longer: the question of moral decisions and who has the right to make them.

It is well known that the majority of those at greatest risk in this epidemic are the elderly, particularly those over 80 who are very likely to have the additional health conditions which are conducive to the most serious form of the virus. But ironically, these older people whom the country is making such sacrifices to protect, appear to be more unhappy with the present restrictions and more eager to see them suspended than other age cohorts.

This is not altogether surprising. The older you get, the more likely you are to have reconciled yourself with the fact of mortality and to be reluctant to spend whatever remaining time you may have isolated from your family and friends. If you are, say, 85 years old and you have a choice between possibly catching the virus or living out what might be your final year of life without ever seeing your grandchildren again, which would you go for?

And this is not just a selfish matter. I have not yet reached that venerable age, but I am a parent and a grandparent. Would I prefer to take a risk with my own health for the sake of protecting the next generation’s economic future? You bet I would. And I believe, as a thinking adult that I should be free to make that choice, so long as I am not putting others at risk in the process.

Government ministers always say that they are being led “by the science” in their policy decisions but these are moral questions on which, as I wrote on this page last week, everyone has a right to an opinion. The scientists can provide empirical data which might influence those views but there is nothing in their canon that provides an answer to the question, “What matters most in my own life - the length of it or the quality of it?”

There are concerns too at the other end of the age spectrum. If, as the government’s scientific advisor, Professor Neil Ferguson, has suggested, social distancing will have to remain until we have a vaccine, then it is quite feasible that for roughly a year and a half the lives of our young people will be impoverished in desperately sad ways. They will be unable to make new social connections or form new relationships.

If they are single and unattached at this moment then they will have to remain that way for the duration, missing out on the chance to form the bonds of love and partnership that would be normal at their stage of life.

Has anybody thought about this? Surely we need a grown-up discussion of these things now which goes beyond the science – which is not, in truth, as objectively unambiguous as politicians pretend - and even beyond economic prediction538prom精品视频在线播放 which also poses as hard truth when it is often contentious. The government has closed us out of the conversation at just the point where it becomes a matter of values rather than (what is assumed to be) concrete fact.

There are good grounds for believing that there is much more dismay and anxiety about these restrictions - especially with no end in sight - than ministers believe. Much of this may be anecdotal but it is real, living testimony from real people that often gives the truer picture.

I’m sure that the government believes it has gained the confidence of the country: in crass political terms, it has even taken ownership of the precious role of defender of the NHS538prom精品视频在线播放. But in another year or so, when the damage is clearly visible, they will own that too.