A letter from the Grim Reaper

A letter from the Grim Reaper

Letters are usually thought of as neutral or beneficent in character – letters from friends or family, keeping in touch, communicating across separation. Only occasionally are they different, like letters from tax authorities or about paying bills, or when not ‘real’ letters at all, like form letters sent to hundreds or even thousands of people and which use our names to address us personally. In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic in Britain, and in different parts of the country, many people have received letters from their local GP/health care practices, addressed to them personally and containing a form. The letter asks them to complete the form with information about whether they do or do not wish to be resuscitated should they fall ill. It states those with severe illnesses were “unlikely” to be admitted to hospital and would “not be offered a ventilator bed”. All the people concerned come into the ‘vulnerable‘ category because of their age, physical health, or because they are disabled. One recipient described this as like receiving a letter from the Grim Reaper, from death itself. In response, a number of care charities have issued a counter-letter, an open letter calling for the policy to be abolished in order to protect “people’s fundamental human rights”.

In current circumstances it has become a knee-jerk response – ‘it is the pandemic, they are saving so many lives’ – to see all doctors (and only to a slightly lesser extent nurses) as by nature heroic figures. Let us not forget that many of them are not. As these ‘should you really use up resources when others are more deserving of life’ letters demonstrate, many of them have strong eugenic inclinations and see some people as more fitted to live than others and are quite keen on helping the ‘unfit’ on our way. And it is of course interesting in terms of theorising the letter that both the GP communication sent with the ‘don’t resuscitate, you won’t be anyway, sign here‘ form and also the rebuttal by the charities were done using written letters.

For how the initial example of a GP practice in Wales doing this was reported on the BBC news app, see “Coronavirus: GP surgery apology over ‘do not resuscitate’ form” https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-52117814

Last updated: 23 April 2020