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Opinion: Denying deathbed visits is inhumane

April 10, 2020

It is hard to imagine anything more brutal than denying loved ones the right to visit dying relatives because of the coronavirus. The isolation of the elderly and ill must end at the deathbed, DW's Astrid Prange writes.

Old woman's hand being held
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/O. Berg

Who will hold their hand? Who will kiss their cheek? Who will utter those last comforting words? Who will close their eyelids? These questions have become extremely difficult to answer in the age of the coronavirus, when many dying patients have to face their final hours alone — without the tenderness of family and friends, forced to leave this world without being able to say goodbye.

Many hospitals and nursing homes have adopted prohibitions on visitors during the coronavirus pandemic, a situation that could hardly be crueler.

Such bans are also torturous for family and loved ones who are forced to live with the realization that they cannot be there for the people they love. They cannot show their feelings or give thanks for a life spent together. They can neither comfort, nor be comforted.

The situation will no doubt cause pain and guilt that many will carry for the rest of their lives. As important as such a ban may be from an epidemiological point of view, it is also utterly inhumane.

Read more: What do futurists imagine for the post-pandemic world?

Stop the isolation

The isolation of the old and ill must end at the deathbed. There must be a way to find compromise between two equally valid needs: Protection against the coronavirus and protection against death in social isolation.

Although German hospitals and nursing homes have granted exceptions for some patients, implementing the policy has been anything but smooth. Moreover, the exception excludes those ill with the coronavirus.

Couldn't a quick test be administered for visitors? Couldn't masks and other personal protective equipment be made available to family and friends?

I have the utmost respect for all of the doctors, nurses, priests, morticians and affected families who carry this unimaginably heavy burden every day as they try to bring a sense of humanity and tenderness to people during this time of crisis.

They are all walking along a metaphoric Via Dolorosa, which Christians cannot do literally this Easter because of the danger of infection. They show us that human tenderness is stronger than bans — and that life can celebrate resurrection.