Last Friday I woke to see the news reports of the tragic nursing home fire in Quakers Hill, Sydney, and I was distressed.
The first report I caught on breakfast TV was that 10 people – variously described as “old”, “elderly” or “incapacitated” – had perished in the blaze.
My mind, like yours, went immediately to the nightmarish confusion of it all. I saw people lying on beds or sitting in chairs on the median strip as the fire raged. I empathised with the helplessness of the patients, the bravery of the rescue teams and the panic of families wondering whether their loved ones had been caught up in the inferno.
Now a man has been charged with setting the fire and the law will take its course. The death toll continues to rise.
However, the air has cleared a little and I can now see that what upset me lingers beyond the horror of a criminal act and the stark reality of a death toll.
I am utterly appalled that elderly and infirm people were left so vulnerable to news cameras.
Since Friday we have seen endless news photographs and footage of people, clearly identified, in a moment of extreme vulnerability. I can tell you that my father – proud teacher, footballer, sports administrator, social activist, handsome man and mentor to many – would be humiliated to think that abject images of him would be broadcast in such a manner.
Along with small children, it seems that our elderly are least able to stand up for their rights in society.
In fact, it might be said that our elders are our most vulnerable, because their faces were shown, whereas the faces of little ones may have been pixellated.
Why was their dignity trashed in this way? Who was there to speak for them? Are there any conventions in place to stop this intrusion?
Or, does the publishing of their terrorised, soot-blackened faces in oxygen masks just add to the story-telling and that’s fair enough?
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