The 1982 film Sophie’s Choice turns on a single moment: which of her children will Sophie choose to give a chance of survival, which of her children will Sophie choose to be taken to die. Faced with the death camp at Auschwitz, Sophie must make a choice that cannot be avoided.
SS officer: Are you a Polack? You! Are you also one of those filthy communists?
Sophie: I am a Pole! I was born in Cracow! I am not a Jew. Neither are my children! They’re not Jews. They are racially pure. I am a Christian. I am a devout Christian.
SS officer: You are not a communist? You are a believer.
Sophie: Yes sir, I believe in Christ.
SS officer: You believe in Christ the redeemer?
SS officer: Did He not say… “Suffer the children, come unto me?” You may keep one of your children.
Sophie: I beg your pardon?
SS officer: You may keep one of your children. The other must go away.
Sophie: You mean, I have to choose?
SS officer: You are a Polack, not a Yid. That gives you a privilege, a choice.
One child may have the chance to live, the other will die. Unless Sophie chooses, both will die.
Boris Johnson must make a choice that the government will not publicly acknowledge: who will die and who will have a chance to live?
The lockdown, the measures to restrict, to postpone, to delay, comes at a cost. The cost is one to the Exchequer, which can currently borrow at interest rates that are at an historic low. It is at a cost to economic life, which has severely contracted. It is at a cost to the normal functioning of human society. But it is also at a cost to human life.
Elective procedures have been postponed, consultations have not taken place, diagnoses have not been made. People with potentially serious conditions have feared going to hospital; they have feared making appointments at their local surgery. Preventable deaths are taking place and the situation will worsen as long as the focus upon Covid-19 continues.
The arithmetic is in favour of the Covid-19 measures at present, they are saving more lives than they are costing, although the government provides no estimates of the benefits and costs. By restricting hospital admissions from nursing homes, the government is already choosing some of those who will die.
In the coming weeks, as Covid-19 deaths fall, Boris Johnson will be compelled to make a conscious choice about whose lives he saves. Does he continue with the measures or does he realise that the point has been reached where the cost is too heavy? He will be forced to acknowledge that, like the nursing home residents, there are people who will not be saved in order that resources may again be devoted to those with other conditions.
The choice to be made is a horrible one, who will be chosen to live and who will be chosen to die?
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