Last Rites in a Pandemic

The Labour Humanist points out an entertaining question in the House of Lords yesterday, in which a bishop asks for vicars, priests etc. to get priority in receiving flu vaccinations in the case of a pandemic. There’s another question a few minutes later that interested me:

Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, if there is a pandemic, there will be people wanting and needing the last rites. Is the Minister aware that chaplains in hospital deal with the dying, and that ministers of religion visit dying people in their homes? If they are not key workers, who are on the list of key workers?

You can almost hear the inflection on the last sentence. How about medical staff, people involved in food production, people who deliver the food, people who, you know, do something useful? You know what? My religion says I should die while watching strippers. They give me great solace in times of need, and should be key workers too, dammit.

As far as I can tell the ‘last rites’ involve listening to confession and giving bread and wine to people. Emotionally useful, maybe, but of no practical value whatsoever. It would give great solace to allow dying people to e-mail goodbyes to their relatives, but I’m not suggesting that all computer technicians get priority vaccinations. It does sound heartless, on the face of things, to say that people who would genuinely feel better with the help of ‘last rites’ should be denied, but a major pandemic would be a full-on emergency condition, and you have to prioritise above things that are so completely unimportant and unproductive. I like the reply (emphasis mine):

Lord Warner: My Lords, the current proposal is that frontline healthcare workers would be a priority group but, as I said in my reply, no final decisions have been taken in this area on specific employment groups. I assure the noble Baroness and the right reverend Prelate that guidance on infection control is available to ministers of religion attending the dying or deceased.

Forgive me for asking something so obvious, but if they’re doing such good work, why doesn’t their deity just prevent them from getting ill? I hope any creationist bishops don’t ask for more than one vaccination, either.