No, Italy is Not Consigning 80-Year Olds to Death

Fake News Alert.

Many people around the world are circulating this Telegraph article and it appears that the main source of this news seems to be the Telegraph, not the Italian media.

The Italian media, based on accounts and projections from doctors, medical practitioners, family members and analysts, speak, instead, in terms of doctors already being faced with the horrible decision of who to treat first as the number of those infected with the Coronavirus continues to rise in Italy beyond the capacity of Italian hospitals to provide equal treatment for all.

It is enough to read Marco Revelli’s article ‘We have reached a sort of ground zero’, Bergamo doctor Daniele Macchini’s testimonial of the current situation in a Bergamo hospital and many other reports and stories about how precious ventilators have become and how treatment decisions are very reluctantly and rarely made on the basis of who has the best chances of survival. These reports have been essential in making Italians understand why the need for a national lockdown in the country is necessary.

The sensationalist headline of the Telegraph article, on the other hand, is making it sound like a decision has already been made allowing doctors to “leave patients over the age of 80 to die” when there is apparently only a draft proposal by the Civil Protection of the Piedmont region which the Telegraph says it has seen.

The alleged proposal speaks in very conditional terms: “Should it become impossible to provide all patients with intensive care services, it will be necessary to apply criteria for access to intensive treatment, which depends on the limited resources available.” And again: “The criteria set out guidelines *if* the situation becomes of such an exceptional nature as to make the therapeutic choices on the individual case dependent on the availability of resources.”

It remains to be seen whether such a proposal will be passed and implemented around the country. If it is, I expect many Italians will take to the streets making lockdown useless.

Precision in journalism is important. It doesn’t matter whether the reporter is herself Italian and the report itself contradicts the headline. An official is quoted as saying “we aim to delay the use of these criteria as long as possible” and that the criteria relate only to intensive care. But the clickbait headline says “Italians will be left to die”.

Italian doctors should be highly offended by such sensationalist headlines (because few will actually go on to read the article closely) that diminish their plight, professional integrity, struggles and ethical dilemmas, turning them into some sort of Gestapo officers deciding who gets to go and who stays.

Finally, such articles are dangerous for other countries and set a precedence in influencing public opinion. Judging from many comments I have seen, people are already saying:

“Well, if the Catholic family-loving Italians are doing it, so can we.”

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Masturah Alatas is the author of The life in the Writing (Marshall Cavendish, 2010) and The girl who made it snow in Singapore (Ethos Books, 2008). She is currently working on a novel about polygamy. Masturah teaches English at the University of Macerata in Italy, and can be contacted at: alatas@unimc.it    

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