Biopower Under a State of Exception: Stories of Dying and Grieving Alone During COVID-19 Emergency Measures

Article Summary by J. Cristian Rangel

For Helen

During the first waves of COVID-19, governments across the world enforced lockdown policies with the intention of protecting entire populations from infection and death. This was done under a climate of scientific and medical uncertainty about the infectivity and lethality of the novel coronavirus. Because these policies were enforced on entire populations without consideration of specific populations’ needs and vulnerabilities, they could be described as one-size-fits-all policies. These public health policies were an innovation in liberal democratic societies because they defied what until then were accepted public health standards that promoted principles of proportionality, equity and community participation for effective and ethical policy development and implementation – specially in times of societal crises. Unsurprisingly, these policies landed differently on differently resourced populations. They certainly produced their intended safety and health security effects for some, specially the well-housed and job secured populations that could work at a distance. However, for others, the same policies produced poverty, sickness, neglect and even death.

Listen to J. Cristian Rangel’s discussion of the article below:


Read the full article on the Medical Humanities journal website.



Helen survived a workcamp in Siberia and was the lone survivor of her family during the Holocaust. She went on to have a long and beautiful life and family. She was loved and cared for by her kids and grandkids – even as she went on to live in a long-term care home when her eyesight and hearing started to deteriorate. She loved the presence and touch of her family daily, and she enjoyed roaming the hallways of the facility in which she lived. This all ended when aggressive lockdown policies were implemented to stop COVID-19 transmission. Suddenly she was locked alone in her room for months, she experienced depression and lost her will to live. She had not contracted COVID-19 at the time of her death – yet, like Ariis Knight with whom I opened the article – she died isolated, and her family could not mourn her death together.

We wrote this article for Helen, and thousands of elderly and vulnerable people who died alone as result of the majority-embraced public health policies that broke principles of civil liberties, proportionality and justice –all in the name of safety. These policies may have disproportionately benefited the safety of the healthy and well-off while leaving those who needed medical, social and political resources the most, unprotected and uncared for, at a time of societal crisis. This article is a tribute to their lives. Let us never forget.


Picutre of J. Cristian Rangel.

J. Cristian Rangel is a sociologist of Medicine & Science and Technology Studies at the University of Ottowa.

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