Feb. 5, 2021 -- Should anybody be blamed and punished for 2.2 million COVID-related deaths in the world?
An editorial in an influential British medical journal says politicians who didn’t respond aggressively enough to control the coronavirus pandemic should be held responsible for those deaths, which the editorial says could be classified as “social murder.”
“Politicians must be held to account by legal and electoral means, indeed by any national and international constitutional means necessary,” wrote Kamran Abbasi, MD, the executive editor of BMJ.
Abbasi writes that the phrase “social murder” was coined by philosopher Friedrich Engels to describe the conditions created by privileged classes in 19th century England that “inevitably led to premature and ‘unnatural’ death among the poorest classes.”
Today, the phrase may describe “the lack of political attention to social determinants and inequities that exacerbate the pandemic,” he writes.
“When politicians and experts say that they are willing to allow tens of thousands of premature deaths for the sake of population immunity or in the hope of propping up the economy, is that not premeditated and reckless indifference to human life?”
Among the politicians mentioned in the editorial are former U.S. President Donald Trump, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi -- all leaders of nations with high numbers of deaths.
Almost 2.3 million people have died of COVID-related reasons, according to Johns Hopkins University, many in developed nations. More than 445,000 people have died in the United States and 110,000 in the United Kingdom.
One course of action, the editorial says, is for world tribunals, such as the International Criminal Court, to broaden their definitions of murder “to cover state failings in pandemics.”
In a linked editorial titled “What went wrong in the global governance of covid-19?” Clare Wenham, PhD, of the London School of Economics said politics had driven governments’ response to the pandemic, and she called for blame to be given to specific people.
"We need a targeted review that names and shames governments, rather than obscuring them with generalisations," she said.
The Abbasi editorial sparked strong reaction on social media, with many in health care and academia supporting the concept.
“The BMJ tells it like it is --” wrote Jon Crowcroft, PhD, a University of Cambridge professor.
“Very powerful editorial in the@bmj_latest,” tweeted Mark E. Thomas, a mathematician and strategist.
“Hard-hitting truth thanks,” tweeted Nancy Olivieri, MD, a Toronto doctor and researcher.
“Half the deaths from #COVID19 worldwide have occurred in 5 countries: UK, USA, Brazil, Mexico and India. This editorial in the BMJ argues that populist leaders of some of these countries have a crime to answer for,” tweeted Derek Connelly, MD, an honorary professor at the University of Glasgow.
“The US response to the pandemic was nothing short of #SocialMurder. The former president and his cronies should be held responsible,” tweeted Griffin Cupstid, MD, a South Carolina family doctor.
“I've lived to see the executive editor of BMJ cite Engels' ‘The condition of the working class’, what's next, Nature advocating permanent revolution.” tweeted Tatjana Buklijas, MD, whose Twitter account identifies her as a historian of science.
Seda Yerlikaya, a global health specialist, felt the editorial needed more context.
Of course, not everyone agrees with the editorial at all.
“This article is disgusting. Dr Abassi may well be a Dr but he is also a hack. The BMJ is a left supporting magazine, that has now crossed a line. To accuse the Government of social Murder it is not only outrageous it is untrue and libelous. Time to take legal action,” tweeted a woman who goes by “Flower Pot” on Twitter.