Editorial: We are not the same but we are related
Lucy Letby was found guilty in August of the murder of six babies in her care as a nurse and the attempted murder of seven others. It is one of the most shocking crimes in my lifetime.
Those of us who have not lost a baby can only imagine how devastating it must be under any circumstances. But how much worse to lose a baby by the deliberate choice of a killer. The pain of those affected is unthinkable.
For us reading and watching the news, it seems to me that our national shock was all the deeper because the killer was a young female nurse. Female killers have always had that effect: Myra Hindley, Rose West… We don’t think evil looks like this, so the crime seems somehow even more unnatural.
The Sun, Mirror, Mail, Express and Times all called Ms Letby a ‘monster’. It is a word that reflects our horror of her appalling deeds, how far they are from our world. But it also claims something about us who use it: we are a different species, a different creature. We are made of different stuff.
We are indeed different. I have never done anything remotely so awful as Ms Letby, and you will be able to say the same. But there have been times I have been out of control and done things that appalled me. I have chosen to do things that cause suffering because it suited me. I have known something is unequivocally wrong and given myself the go-ahead anyway. I have done lasting damage to people’s lives that I cannot mend.
Hardly as extreme as Ms Letby’s crimes, nowhere near, but she is an extreme version of what I am. We are not completely different things. She, too, is a person.
If this kinship sticks in the throat, I think saying someone is a monster also risks letting them off the hook as well as us. Calling a vicious criminal non-human vents our revulsion, but it also puts them outside our moral rules. A bear or a landmine might kill a child, but we can’t blame, accuse or punish it as we do a person. It is precisely because Lucy Letby is human, made of the same stuff as the rest of us, that we can condemn her for breaking our laws. We are not the same but we are related.
Jesus did not tell us all people are the same. But he did tell us that focusing on our differences does us no good when standing before God. ‘Thank you that I am not like that woman’ gets us nowhere. ‘Have mercy on me a sinner’ – that’s more to the point.
This article was published in the October 2023 edition of Reform