The gut reaction would be “not to politicise a tragedy”. The government reminds everyone that it is undignified to exploit the death of someone and the terrible tragedy that struck a family to score political points. And the rest of us murmur agreement that these things cannot be helped and it is unseemly to blame anyone for this.
This is residual fatalistic catholicism in action: the crippling notion of an act of a flippant god that no man can question. I can’t subscribe to this.
Inasmuch as I cannot accept the argument that there are no policy responsibilities to be carried for the creation of an environment where a journalist is killed in the line of duty, I cannot accept the argument that there are no policy responsibilities to be carried for the creation of an environment where a 7 year old child starves to death.
These are not “tragedies”. An earthquake is a tragedy. This is a failure of the state.
We have an environment here where vulnerable members of our community cannot afford basic health care. This girl lived and died buffeted in a perfect storm. She was not recognised as a refugee for whatever reason that frankly I could not care to hear. She was not entitled to free basic healthcare for not meeting whatever minimum requirement she was supposed to satisfy.
The mental health problems of her parents, an inevitable consequence of the horrors they escaped from, the deprivations they endured to get here and the treatment they received trapped in a hopeless existence while here, exacerbated the poor child’s vulnerability.
The state came across this family on many occasions. Every time, they fell through every crack of eligibility every bureaucrat could conceive.
Until she died.
Her family has been here for years. Even by their presence, the conversations they had, the milk and bread they struggled to buy, the odd jobs they did when they could not do more, they contributed to this nation. And this nation isolated them, let them get sick and let the weakest of them die.
I shudder to think that should he ever want it, and he never would, your average Russian oligarch or Saudi sheikh who has been to Malta for all of 90 minutes, the time it takes for the return trip from his private jet to the passport office is entitled to free medical healthcare in Malta.
Health is not a right to be reserved for citizens. Health is a fundamental human right. I underline human, even though we actually pride ourselves to have minimum standards of care and welfare even for four-legged beasts now.
But is a 7 year old girl human in our eyes? For many of us now this one would not be. She is Nigerian, illegal, black. But not human. And inasmuch as some people can bring themselves to think a journalist of a different political opinion has no right to life, some people can bring themselves to think a 7 year old girl born elsewhere has no right to life either.
You read comments like it is her parents’ fault for leaving Nigeria in the first place, as if that would have improved her chances of living. Or it is the church’s fault for not watching their needs when they provided them with housing: the off logic that if you’re going to feed the geese, you have to clean up the mess.
Even the less cruelly minded see this as a matter for charity. It is not.
It is the function of the state to ensure that all human beings are afforded the right to have access to health care. And the state has failed.
Sure I will leave it to the inquiries to determine any specific failings, any prejudice that may have played a part in this, any possible neglect.
But I suspect they will find that everyone in this case has done their job according to the rule book and as the rule book is written no one could do more for this girl. A cashier at Mater Dei cannot exercise their own discretion to waive fees a patient not entitled to free health care according to our rule book is obliged to pay.
It’s the rule book that is the problem: that we are tight and strict and stingy with people in need and roll out the carpet to people who swim in it.
I dislike patronising platitudes as a rule and I am not religious myself. I will leave the sermons to the professionals. But that 7 year old girl found release from the agony of slow starvation because all the inns of Betlehem were full.
A 7 year old girl just died and we could have prevented it, not by being moved to charity where people can choose whether to contribute or not depending on whether the money they share is being “wasted on dawk is-suwed”. It should have been prevented by a little less flus fil-but, a little less aggressive and populist tax cutting, a little higher ceiling on taxes paid by gaming companies, for the state to fulfill its obligations and ensure that no child is left to die of hunger.
If these Dickensian stories do not shake us out of this drunken stupor, what in the world ever will?