vulnerable people

Assisted Dying and Protecting the Vulnerable

Sadly, though unsurprisingly, Rob Marris’s assisted dying bill has been rejected overwhelmingly by British MPs.

The most widely accepted argument in favour of rejecting the bill seems to have been that doing so would protect the vulnerable. Continue reading

The Savage in Us All

Many since the nineteenth century, including Ghandi and Churchill, have said that a society should be judged by how it treats its weakest members. They must be right – although of course it’s not the only relevant measure.

The Panorama programme which uncovered the systematic abuse of highly vulnerable people by staff at the Winterbourne View unit in Bristol provides good evidence that our society may be doing quite badly. The abuse is vicious and shocking. But it should not be surprising.

In 1971, Professor Philip Zimbardo, at Stanford University, carried out an experiment to study the psychological effects on human beings of becoming prisoners or prison guards. Here’s the description from Wikipedia (I know, I know…):

‘Twenty-four students were selected out of 75 to play the prisoners and live in a mock prison in the basement of the Stanford psychology building. Roles were assigned randomly. The participants adapted to their roles well beyond what even Zimbardo himself expected, leading the “Officers” to display authoritarian measures and ultimately to subject some of the prisoners to torture. In turn, many of the prisoners developed passive attitudes and accepted physical abuse, and, at the request of the guards, readily inflicted punishment on other prisoners who attempted to stop it. The experiment even affected Zimbardo himself, who, in his capacity as “Prison Superintendent,” lost sight of his role as psychologist and permitted the abuse to continue as though it were a real prison. Five of the prisoners were upset enough by the process to quit the experiment early, and the entire experiment was abruptly stopped after only six days.’

The course of the Stanford experiment is, of course, not an aberration. Countless other experiments, and indeed much of history, provide clear evidence that, if you give one group of human beings power over another, abuse – sometimes on a huge scale – is not unlikely to be the result.

What to do? In the case of care homes, I think it can help to consider which safeguards you would want in place if you were to end up in one (as any of us might, of course). For me, one part of the answer is simple: continual video monitoring and recording in all public spaces and audio in private (with consent where appropriate, of course). Human beings cannot be trusted, and it is time those who regulate, own, and run care homes woke up to that unpalatable fact.