The elderly have been very hard hit by the Covid-19 epidemic since the beginning of the first wave in 2020. The mortality rate observed in this population, especially among people residing in health care facilities, has led the authorities to put in place restrictive measures, up to and including confinement, to protect them. The restriction of freedoms and the altering of social links have led to a great deal of suffering for the elderly themselves and for their families. The concentration of frail people in one place has proven to be a multiplier of the risks inherent in an epidemic and has dramatically challenged these people, their families and their loved ones, with the questions regarding end-of-life and death.
These measures, which have privileged the absolute necessity of protection to the detriment of the personal and social well-being of people who are vulnerable because of their age and state of health, draw attention to ethical issues in public health, and call into question policies on support for ageing.
This symposium, organized by the Ad Memoriam Institute and the National Consultative Ethics Committee (CCNE) on May 28, 2021, reviewed the facts, highlighted testimonies, questioned ethical issues of public health, and attempted to lay the foundations for a reconstruction of support for the elderly. Its overall ambition: to rediscover humanity at the end of life.
Researchers from different disciplines, philosophers, doctors, and representatives of regional fora for ethical reflection spoke throughout the day, which was opened by Prof. Jean-François Delfraissy, President of the CCNE, and closed by Prof. Laetitia Atlani-Duault, Director of the Covid 19 Ad Memoriam Institute.
The Covid-19 pandemic is the first of the digital age. In this, it does not resemble the health crises of previous eras: since March 2020, economic and social activities have been partially maintained thanks to smartphones, computers and other digital tools. But the uses of these tools have also changed since Spring 2020. The speed of these evolutions has not yet allowed us to identify their implications for our society, nor to grasp their long-term effects. This symposium took a first step in that direction. What have we learned? What are the advances we would like to preserve after the end of the crisis? What are the limits to the accelerated digitalization of our daily lives?
The objective of this scientific meeting, more than one year after the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic in France, was to share and discuss the results of research in the humanities, social sciences, and public health on the subject of the pandemic and its effects. It focused on analysis of the French context.
Research in the humanities and social sciences has been mobilized in a sustained manner to understand the short-term effects of the pandemic, particularly in terms of social inequalities and vulnerabilities. It has also proposed frameworks of understanding and developed surveys to account for the forms of political management of the pandemic and the ways in which individuals, families and social groups have experienced and reacted to it. This analysis has taken into account very different scalar contexts – local, territorial and national.
A major question that runs through this reflection is whether the pandemic merely reinforces pre-existing situations, or whether it can be seen as an event that slows down, interrupts or, on the contrary, accelerates certain changes in progress, whether they concern ways of living, working, moving, socializing, learning, cultivating and entertaining oneself, producing and consuming, or being a citizen. We also know that there are new issues to highlight, including social ruptures and the imposition of exceptional health and political measures, which call for an exercise in reflexivity.
Director Laetitia Atlani-Duault, Director of the Covid-19 Ad Memoriam Institute, was highly involved in this conference, notably in the round table discussion “Traces of the pandemic”. This roundtable brought together historian George Vigarello, archaeologist Jean Paul Demoule, and philosopher of law Antoine Garapon, and was chaired by Prof. Atlani-Duault.