Somebody has to be jailed – and that somebody works for the government
IS Tasmanian disability advocate Jane Wardlaw right when she says the death of Adelaide woman Ann-Marie Smith is a “very good example of how as a nation we need to start looking at ourselves and our connection with community”? Have we outsourced to the government so much of what used to be a private, street-level sense of mutual care for the vulnerable that Miss Smith’s neighbours – or even we “as a nation” – bear some portion of responsibility for her disgraceful demise?
Found in a semi-conscious state by her “carer,” she was rushed to Adelaide Hospital where doctors performed major surgery to remove rotting flesh from the many severe pressure sores on her body. South Australia Police are now investigating what they have officially declared a major crime. Detective Superintendent Des Bray said Miss Smith died in “disgusting and degrading circumstances.” Police found no food in her house – nor even a refrigerator – and say the deceased’s cane chair had become her toilet. This is one of the most shocking cases of neglect I can recall. But are “we” to blame? Is the nation to blame?
To answer the question, we need to define terms. If by “nation” Jane Wardlaw means millions of Australians in hundreds of thousands of streets, towns and communities throughout the country, then no – it is not fair to say “we” are indifferent to the isolated and vulnerable. But the time-honoured principle of respecting a neighbour’s privacy should never extend to incuriosity on this scale. There is a point at which one needs to knock on a door or at least share justified concerns with another neighbour and intervene prudently. I think most people know this and act accordingly. If, however, the “nation” means the state, our ever-increasing reliance on it to provide basic human kindness means that yes, the nation – or, rather, a culture newly predominant – could be said to make us and governments jointly culpable. Ann-Marie Smith’s so-called carer has been sacked and is assisting police. He or she was NDIS-funded and employed by Integrity Care SA. The latter will also be required to assist federal and state authorities as they investigate this tragedy.
Rest in peace, Ann-Marie. You were badly let down.