Bramble, Pandemic Ethics, the Nursing Home-Industrial Complex, and the Scope of Mainstream Philosophy

This post comprises a comment that I contributed to the discussion at PEA Soup of Ben Bramble’s Pandemic Ethics. Bramble’s book, which is open access, online here, was discussed across three PEA Soup posts. My comment below appears on the third of these posts. I wanted to point out what I regard as a grave lacuna in Bramble’s treatment of how we should understand the key events of the pandemic and thus how we should respond to the pandemic. If you follow BIOPOLITICAL PHILOSOPHY and read or listen to it regularly, my comment below should be thoroughly undertandable and expected. My parenthetical remarks indicate an edit and the addition of links to other posts. You can find the comment at PEA Soup here.


Here are some excerpts from recent news reports:

“Nursing homes have been the center of America’s coronavirus pandemic, with more than 62,000 residents and staff dying from Covid-19 at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, about 40 percent of the country’s virus fatalities.” New York Times, August 16, 2020.

“In the weeks that followed the March 25 order, COVID-19 tore through New York state’s nursing facilities, killing more than 6,000 people — about 6% of its more than 100,000 nursing home residents. In all, as many as 4,500 COVID-19 infected patients were sent to nursing homes across the state, according to a count conducted by The Associated Press.” ProPublica, June 16, 2020

“There are five seniors’ care facilities in Canada where more than 40 per cent of residents died during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, a CBC News investigation has found.” Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, July 10, 2020

“A disturbing new report from the Canadian military paints a picture of severe neglect inside several of Ontario’s long-term care homes struggling with the Covid-19 pandemic, including observations of insect infestations, staffing shortages and patients being underfed and left in soiled diapers… To date during the pandemic, Ottawa has deployed nearly 300 military personnel to Ontario care homes, and more than 1,500 to homes in Quebec. Public health officials have said roughly 80 percent of Canada’s Covid-19-related deaths are linked to long-term care homes.” Politico, May 26, 2020

The news coverage of how COVID-19 has impacted seniors and younger disabled people in nursing homes and other congregate living arrangements has been extensive across traditional news outlets and social media, shining a spotlight on how certain marginalized sectors of the population have been neglected and mistreated, as well as the ageism, ableism, and racism that have enabled the production of this mistreatment and its persistence. Indeed, I have written [four] posts about COVID-19 and nursing homes at BIOPOLITICAL PHILOSOPHY [here, here, here, and here], the most recent of which links to a post that I wrote for the blog of the World institute on Disability [here].

I’d like to know why the circumstances in nursing homes and other institutions in which seniors, elders, and younger disabled people are segregated, institutions whose workforces are primarily made up of racialized and newcomer women, has fallen outside the terms of the “revolutionary argument” that you propose here and indeed is not considered at any length in your book. I could find only two mentions of nursing homes in the book, one of which is to be found in a brief footnote.

Did I miss something? Surely you are not suggesting that turning one’s attention to the thousands of deaths that have occurred in these places and the predictable conditions that facilitated them is less imperative than one’s refusal to buy a pair of Jimmy Choo pumps. So how do you explain the fact that you have paid little attention to the conditions of these institutions in your critical examination of the pandemic and normative response to it?

What is the relation between the neglect of these deaths in your account and in other philosophical discussions of the pandemic, the carceral circumstances in which these deaths continue to occur, and the refusal of philosophers to analyse disability in terms of contingent productive and structural power rather than natural disadvantage? For my own part, I want to draw a direct link between the way in which mainstream (and even feminist) philosophers continue to sideline the horrific impact of the pandemic on disabled, senior, and other marginalized and institutionalized constituencies and the continued exclusion of disabled philosophers from the profession.

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