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Friday, January 2, 2009

Barry Baker Assaulted After his Death

British newspapers are publishing photographs of Barry Baker's house, the man I wrote about yesterday. The photographs graphically illustrate Mr. Baker's house was a mess. Apparently this was the first thing that struck the two men when they entered Mr. Baker's home. The most polite newspapers describe Mr. Baker's home as "messy" or "untidy" while more judgmental headlines use words such as "squalor". I cannot dispute the fact Mr. Baker's house was indeed a shamble. The photographs published are upsetting, no human should live in a home that is littered with boxes and the debris of a lifetime. However, my next thought was are these photographs relevant? What, if any, was the point of releasing these photos? Why did the company hired to clean Mr. Baker's home after he died post the photos on their website?

The answer to the above questions is clear to me: the worth of Mr. Baker's life is being called into question. The photographs are being used to help justify or at least excuse the decision made by the EMS workers not to resuscitate Mr. Baker. For instance, one British news outlet, Argus, begins its story today with the headline "Squalor found by Paramedics". The first sentence of the Argus story begins: "This is the scene allegedly faced by two paramedics called to save the life of Barry Baker the man medics are accused of leaving to to die in his home". A photograph of Mr. Baker's home accompanies the story. The unwritten message being sent is obvious: no one should live in such a neglected home. To live in such a home calls into question not just the worth of the individual but his mental and physical ability. This person is not worthy. There is no need save this life or even make an effort to do so. The implication of this unstated thought process is deeply troubling and deflects attention from the only important and relevant question: Why was Mr. Baker's life so devalued? The answer is as sad as it is troubling: Mr. Baker's death is a social tragedy, a sign that some members of society are deemed expendable. Among the most obvious expendable humans are the elderly and disabled.

As a society we are capable of many wonderful things. For instance, Mr. Baker had apparently undergone hip replacement surgery. This a common medical procedure and over the last two decades has enhanced and extended the life of many people, especially the elderly. This is but one of many modern medical procedures that when you really think about it dazzle the mind. We can replace human joints, perform heart by pass surgery, remove tumors, and cure a host of diseases that were once inevitably fatal. Yet I question the value of these complex and expensive medical procedures in a health care system that pays scant attention to long term care. In both Britain and the Unites States long term health care is grossly underfunded and far too many people are condemned to institutional care. How can we as a society justify saving the life of a person that experiences a traumatic injury or in Mr. Baker's case a hip replacement surgery only to let that same individual die of neglect? This question is not easily solved nor is even being addressed. All human life has value, a belief that is not held by all and more specifically by two people that could have saved Mr. Baker's life. What a tragic way to start the New Year.


yanub said...

That someone would be living in squalor ought to be a sign that they need more help, not less. Where is the compassion?

william Peace said...

Where is the compassion? Gone as in nonexistent. Mr. Baker's living conditions clearly indicate he needed help and received none. To me, this an indictment of of the current health care system that pours resources into critical care and none into long term care.

Linda Edwards said...

Not everyone will read the photographs as you have - I think we have to be careful not to reinforce the judgement that messy house equals messy human. Where is the compassion you ask, and then claim it is non-existent. But that's not the case. You are showing your compassion, and many others have responded to this story with compassion also. We must be careful in our work not to universalize non-compassion, as you run the risk of doing. I think it is important to publish the photos - an alternative response is to be outraged by them - Why wasn't someone helping Mr Baker? But then again, it's also been reported that Mr Baker travelled by bus every Sunday to the pub to play cards with friends. And that he worked. Its possible then, that he chose to live in a messy house, that it wasn't a priority for him. Perhaps he was simply a lousy housekeeper. Or perhaps, the boxes and debris were of sentimental value to him. We do not know anything about Mr Baker's relationship to his environment. The fact that his house was "indeed a shamble" is a fact to you only, and perhaps was not a fact to Mr Baker. As usual, Mr Baker, the man, his history, the person, is lost in all of this. Having said that, its the specific response of the medics here that should concern us. Its that they thought he was disposable like the litter in his house that is heinous. What are we going to do about that?

william Peace said...

Linda, You are correct, many will have a different take on the photos of Mr. Baker's home. I also agree that compassion does indeed exist. My gross generalization in this regard was incorrect. What I was trying to get across was that I find it hard to fathom how we can replace a person's hip yet utterly fail to provide follow up care. Thus I see Mr. Baker's death as a symptom of a much larger problem. Critical care is often outstanding yet when a health crisis passes into long term disability substandard if not vastly inferior services exist. This can and does lead to the devaluation of some people. My words in this regard seem woefully inadequate as does my compassion. No one helped Mr. Baker and he is dead because two people, professionals in the health care system did not think his life had value. This bothers and worries me.

Matt said...

Mr. Baker Had severe arthritis, and for the last few hers of his life was embarrassed to invite people over. The photo's are not a demonstration of his poor house keeping abilities, which friends of his say were excellent before he became il.