Who is essential in care? Reflections from the pandemic’s backstage

Monteverde, Settimio (2022). Who is essential in care? Reflections from the pandemic’s backstage Nursing Ethics, 29(5), pp. 1096-1106. Sage Publications 10.1177/09697330221113061

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Since the beginning of the pandemic spread of the Coronavirus, societies have been reminded that the impact of Covid-19 and public health measures of infection containment reflect known gradients of inequality. Measures focusing only the (acknowledged) frontstage of the pandemic and neglecting its (unacknowledged) backstage—understood as those framework conditions indispensable for societies to thrive—have worsened the impact of social determinants of health on the most vulnerable, as shown by the deleterious effects of prolonged social isolation of residents of nursing homes. To reflect this phenomenon ethically, a framework is proposed which is inspired by the feminist philosopher Margret Little. At its core stands the assumption that caring for people and moral ends allows us to identify what is morally salient. This epistemological stance allows a critical look at the alleged dilemmas invoked to enforce brute, long-lasting policies of closing nursing homes in many places—especially in the light of their dubious effectiveness in preventing viral spread and the severe physical and psychological consequences for those affected. If moral salience is only fully perceived through the closeness of the caring relationship, the human suffering resulting from these policies reveals the utter inadequacy of the dilemma rhetoric used to justify them. This insight is illustrated by the personal experience of the author: He describes his role as an essential care partner of his mother living in a nursing home and forced into the role of a “visitor” who witnessed a constant deterioration of care. Based on an epistemological understanding of caring for making reliable moral judgments, potentially exclusionary effects of distinguishing essential from non-essential groups in care will be addressed together with the need to overcome strict boundaries between front- and backstage. Such efforts will strengthen the moral community of persons needing care, professional care givers and essential care partners.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


School of Health Professions
School of Health Professions > Nursing


Monteverde, Settimio0000-0002-7041-2663


B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BJ Ethics
R Medicine > RT Nursing




Sage Publications




Settimio Monteverde

Date Deposited:

26 Aug 2022 08:34

Last Modified:

04 Sep 2022 01:36

Publisher DOI:


Uncontrolled Keywords:

long-term conditions, care homes, case study methods, ethics of care/care ethics, ethics and dementia care



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