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A singular focus on one goal, to the exclusion of all else, can be foolish and destructive.
If money is my only priority in life, then my health, marriage and psychological well-being will likely suffer. If all I care about in life is cultivating and enjoying friendships, I might find myself unable to pay the rent. If I'm obsessed with my physical health, this might hurt my career or my marriage. A life well-lived will balance legitimate needs for money, health, friendships, family and the pursuit of virtue, to name a few examples.
Public policy, too, can become foolish and destructive when fixated on one goal only. Our politicians' singular focus on eradicating COVID-19, to the exclusion of so many other aspects of public health is, not surprisingly, proving to be harmful.
Atlin and Reydian, the daughters of Jerry Dunham, ages six and nine, know this to be true. Jerry died of heart failure just two weeks before Father’s Day, in June 2020. Jerry had been hospitalized during the previous 18 months due to heart complications, and he had almost died. With Jerry’s heart operating at 25 percent capacity and not improving, doctors determined that he needed a pacemaker as soon as possible, before eventually obtaining a heart transplant.
But Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and Chief Medical Officer Deena Hinshaw had deemed his pacemaker surgery "non-essential" under the lockdown, so the public health system refused to book the surgery. Nurses at the hospital in Medicine Hat, Alberta, said Jerry’s death was a shame, because the operating room had been almost empty since March, when Dr. Hinshaw cancelled 22,000 "non-essential" surgeries.
One of the nurses asked Krista, mother of Atlin and Reydian, whether they should "put this down as a Covid Death" because "it is related since his surgery got delayed." Krista responded "absolutely not!" since Jerry had tested negative for COVID upon admittance to the hospital.
How many Canadians have died in the past four months because their scheduled surgery was cancelled, or (as in Jerry’s case) simply not booked? How many will die because their cancer-diagnosing surgery was moved from March to August, giving the cancer five months to spread? And how many Canadians did not go to the hospital and receive much-needed medical attention after suffering a heart attack or stroke? Are their lives worth less because they don't have a COVID diagnosis?
Our politicians know, or have the capacity to find out, how many people died because they didn't get the medical treatment they needed. Our federal and provincial governments also have the resources (hundreds of thousands of civil servants across Canada) to obtain the data and information about how many people now suffer from serious and permanent health problems because hospitals were largely empty for months on end. Yet this data is not posted on government websites. These uncomfortable truths about lockdown harms don't serve the dominant narrative, namely, the claim that lockdowns have saved thousands of lives.
This singular fixation on COVID-19, to the detriment of so many patients suffering from cancer, heart disease and a myriad of other illnesses, is exemplified by Alberta Health Services (AHS) using highly selective information to boast about Alberta having a lower COVID death rate than Sweden, which did not impose a lockdown.
Chief Medical Officer Hinshaw claims the Swedish death rate is 12 times higher than in Alberta, but conveniently says nothing about Belgium, Quebec, numerous US states, and countries around the world who imposed lockdowns but have higher death rates than Sweden. The three-page AHS chart also fails to mention that Sweden's population is older than Alberta's, a relevant consideration in light of the fact that in every jurisdiction, COVID poses virtually no threat to children, youth and healthy adults.
More concerning is the complete failure of government websites to say anything about deaths from cancelled surgeries, never-scheduled surgeries like Jerry Dunham's, undiagnosed and untreated cancer, and thousands of patients not accessing all kinds of medically necessary care, for months on end.
This fanatical simplicity is nothing less than callous: "we know the lockdown was (and is) really good, because Alberta's COVID death rate is lower than in Sweden." The government's chart does not compare Sweden and Alberta when it comes to increases in stress, anxiety, alcoholism, drug overdoses, unemployment, bankruptcies, mental illness, family violence, suicides and cancelled surgeries.
It appears that the government believes that the only thing relevant to public health is COVID, so we should accept and support any and every lockdown measure that reduces COVID deaths, even if the lockdowns kill a larger number of people.
Apart from the lockdowns resulting in hundreds of thousands of Canadians not receiving necessary medical care for months on end, the biggest killer may well prove to be a crippled and bankrupt economy. Health care requires money, and good health care requires lots of it. This is why richer countries have better health care and longer life expectancies than poor countries.
By imposing lockdowns, politicians have crippled the Canadian economy and increased the debt that must be repaid (with interest) by our children and grandchildren. Debt servicing costs (interest payments) will take up a larger share of government budgets, leaving less money for health care. Again, the singular fixation on COVID, to the exclusion of other valid concerns and interests, is foolish and destructive.
Physical health aside, our free and democratic society is predicated on the assumption that we are more than clumps of cells whose sole purpose is to live as long as possible. Our Charter freedoms to move, travel, assemble, associate and worship have been violated since March, initially on the pretext of "flattening the curve" to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed by too many COVID patients needing care at the same time.
The curve has been flat for months. The violations of our human dignity that were supposed to be temporary are becoming more permanent, based on the unhealthy fixation of pursuing one goal to the exclusion of others.
Lawyer John Carpay is president of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms.