HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Case Western Reserve University School of Law

Monday, August 15, 2022

Discrimination Today - The Dangers of Pariah-tizing the Elderly during the COVID Pandemic

Barbara Pfeffer Billauer (Institute of World Politics), Discrimination Today - The Dangers of Pariah-tizing the Elderly during the COVID Pandemic, SSRN (2022):

Epidemics invite “pariah-tization.” By this, I mean the process of stigmatizing one marginalized and impotent segment of society as being the group most vulnerable to the disease at hand- without reliable scientific basis. Doing so allows those in power, the young, the rich, the well-educated, to create an artificial cocoon, deluding themselves into believing that they, by virtue of their “superior” hardiness, ethics, social position, are not at risk. It also prevents focus on others truly at risk.

Inaptly labeling the elderly as extremely vulnerable resulted in discriminatory policies or social pressures to restrain the elderly from social intercourse – and caused additional harm to this group. It also bolstered a belief that COVID was not dangerous in the young- resulting in lower vaccine uptake – and hence greater spread of the disease and infections in younger ages. This discriminatory policy against the elderly – increased lockdowns and suggestions that vaccination won’t work in this group – is based on flawed data and misinterpretation of incomplete and irrelevant studies and derive from bias, both social and scientific, of the aging process, illustrating the effects of this pariah-tization.

To my knowledge, this Article is the first to amalgamate data showing COVID is indeed a disease that causes severe disease in the young, demonstrating that faulty misperception of risk in this group results in low vaccine uptake in this group, who then become prime spreaders (and hosts for mutation). It also demonstrates the dangers of bad science in creating bad law and discriminatory policy arising from innate biases against the aged.

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