Jacintha Saldanha deserves to be more than a fable

Turning this nurse's fate into a lesson for modern society ignores the truth

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The Independent Online

With 2Day FM's decision to cancel its Christmas party, and promise of a £320,000 donation to Jacintha Saldanha's family, a full stop, or at least a semi-colon, may now be written in to the narrative of her death. A large sum of money, and a promise not to have any fun: these are the kinds of expressions of regret we can understand.

Since the donation will do so much for Saldanha's mourning loved ones, and since this is all that really matters, it is impossible to wish it hadn't happened. As a public act, though, its effects are mostly for the worse. The difficult thing about understanding the Jacintha Saldanha story is that it seems like a parable of modern life, and this coda only serves to confirm it as such. It features a pregnant royal, and a media frenzy, and an innocent's untimely death, apparently the product of that vampiric glee. It reads like a tragedy fuelled by our obsession with celebrity, carrying an awful echo of the accident that killed Diana. And now there is a reckoning.

But those external circumstances have very little to do with Jacintha Saldanha, a woman about whom we know only the most banal particulars: woman, immigrant, nurse, mother of two, 46. Making a fable of her death, although it may feel like an act of respect, is really nothing of the kind. It turns her from an actual person, who may have died for any number of reasons utterly beyond our reach, into a projection of the culture, important as a device for making a series of arguments about the way we live, but otherwise to be discarded, as she soon will be, by everyone but those who loved her. What dignity is there in this? Blame, in the circumstances, is not to be distributed by the likes of us.

Perhaps there is an argument to the contrary. But I am only prepared to entertain it if it is made by someone whose view that the stunt could be deadly was formed before they heard of Jacintha Saldanha's fate, and not after. It would help if they didn't swing from hand-wringing over this tragedy to vacuous glee at the humiliation machine of the X Factor, too. To condemn the radio station at such a furious pitch now without such qualifications is nothing but hypocrisy, a vigorous contribution to the same culture supposedly being condemned.

One imagines that there are people at 2Day FM who also see it this way. But it doesn't take a seasoned PR operative to see that in the current climate, to say so would be a foolish move. That may mean that their donation is a publicity stunt. It is perhaps a marker of how depressing this whole affair is that it would be hard to blame them, even so. In the circumstances, cynicism is the only rational response.