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The Moneyist: ‘I’m getting compassion fatigue’: My parents said they’d rather quit their jobs and lose everything than get the COVID-19 vaccine

Dear Quentin,

I’m 24 years old, living on a lower income, I’m chronically ill, and I have a pile of student loans.

I’m applying for better jobs and working on building my credit so I can refinance my student loans, and set myself up to be able to buy a home on the off chance that the market crashes.

However, none of that is my main financial stressor at the moment. Nope, that would be my unvaccinated parents.

They refuse to get vaccinated for COVID-19. Even losing our uncle to COVID has done nothing to convince them. They’ve even said they’d rather quit their jobs and lose everything than get vaccinated!

We have a bad family history of health problems, and if they catch COVID it likely won’t end well. I’m terrified that my siblings and I will be left to handle their mortgage, the funeral, and/or medical expenses, none of which we can afford.

Bad financial situation

As frustrated as I am that this could create a bad financial situation for myself, their deaths or job losses would completely destroy my siblings’ lives, as they’re still in college and depend on them.

The last thing I want is for them to have to completely give up their dreams because of our parents’ selfishness and ignorance. While we would be eligible for some tribal help, there’s no way I could completely support them. 

I’m not even getting into the fact that they didn’t handle some of my obvious health and dental issues when I was younger, leaving me to foot the bills now, or that one of my siblings and I are closeted and live in constant fear of being outed and disowned.

I still love my parents and keep hoping that one day they’ll be better humans, but I am getting compassion fatigue, and I am trying to practically prepare for a hard, sad future.

I wish we could have a serious financial talk about how their choices affect their children, but it would only make things worse. If something happens to my parents, what are we responsible for, and what can we do to protect ourselves?

Enough is Enough

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at [email protected], and follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitter.

Dear Enough,

You can talk to your parents about making sure they have adequate health insurance, and tell them that you want them to live long lives where they see their children and/or grandchildren grow up. Please remember that the worst has not happened. It may not happen.

In the meantime, you can show them the many peer-reviewed results about how the COVID-19 vaccine dramatically reduces hospitalization and death from the coronavirus. Unfortunately, the virus has become politicized and millions of people still refuse to take the vaccines that are now available.

Even with the highly contagious delta variant now the most common strain in the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that fully vaccinated people have a 5 times reduced risk of infection and 10 times reduced risk of hospitalization and death. 

But — as you say — you can’t force people to live the life that you believe is smarter and healthier, and take other people into account. They are at a higher risk of contracting and dying from COVID-19, and at a higher risk of transmitting the virus if they are unvaccinated.  

There are new therapeutic treatments in development. Merck
MRK,
-0.28%

and Ridgeback Therapeutics are seeking emergency approval after sharing initial results that molnupiravir, which comes in pill form, cuts the risk of death or hospitalization in half. It is not a substitute for the vaccine or for responsible social distancing.

There’s also concern that people will rely on such potential therapeutic treatments in lieu of getting a vaccine. As Dr. William Schaffner, a professor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Infectious Diseases Division, told MarketWatch, “It’s not a magic pill.”

Your parents will live their lives and you will lead yours, and it’s premature to worry about funeral expenses, even if there are ways to save on them. Ultimately, you can’t change people. You can give them the information and allow them to make their own decisions. It’s frustrating and stressful, but it’s out of your control.

Filial responsibility

More than two dozen U.S. states have so-called filial responsibility laws, which can be traced back to colonial times and (in theory, at least) impose a duty on adult children to support their impoverished parents. You have no reason to worry. They are rarely, if ever, enforced.

They date back to England’s Elizabethan Poor Relief Act of 1601, which required the grandparents, parents, and children of every poor, blind, lame and impotent person to support that individual if they were so able, according to the law firm Burke, Costanza and Carberry. 

But they are invoked when there is alleged skulduggery. “Federal and state laws permit Medicaid to seek reimbursement from recipients’ estates. However, an increasing number of recipients are hiding their financial assets to meet Medicaid’s standards,” it adds. 

(One of the filial responsibility states is Pennsylvania, which did use filial responsibility to force an adult child to pay his mother’s bill. In 2012, Pennsylvania court ruled that an adult son must pay his mother’s $93,000 unpaid nursing home bill, but that was after the family had moved their mother to Greece.)

Ultimately, it seems like your long, difficult history with your parents and their apparent lax approach to their children’s health — as well as their own, as you see it — is mixed up with your current feelings about their refusal to get the Pfizer/BioNTech
PFE,
-0.57%

BNTX,
+0.95%

or Moderna
MRNA,
+1.59%

vaccine.

That’s understandable, but it’s important to put their decision and your own life into perspective. There comes a time when you have to let go, allow them to make their own decisions, and do your best to safeguard your own financial, physical and mental health.

Keep doing what you’re doing. Enlist the support of your siblings — you have a better chance of getting through any worst-case scenario as a group — and endeavor to be a compassionate and understanding son.  Sometimes, people teach us how to move through the world by showing us what not to do.

You can love your parents and disagree with their outlook on the world. You have become an independent person in the face of your own health struggles, and have proven that you are not a prisoner of the past.  Keep paying off your loans, and working hard, and checking in with your parents to see what, if anything, they need.

Rest assured, that you are doing — and have done — everything you can.

By emailing your questions, you agree to having them published anonymously on MarketWatch. By submitting your story to Dow Jones & Company, the publisher of MarketWatch, you understand and agree that we may use your story, or versions of it, in all media and platforms, including via third parties.

Check out the Moneyist private Facebook group, where we look for answers to life’s thorniest money issues. Readers write in to me with all sorts of dilemmas. Post your questions, tell me what you want to know more about, or weigh in on the latest Moneyist columns.

The Moneyist regrets he cannot reply to questions individually.

More from Quentin Fottrell:

‘I just don’t trust my sister’: How do I gift money to my nieces without their mother having access to it?
We’re getting married and have a baby on the way. My wife has offered to pay off my $10,000 student debt and $7,500 car loan
I have three children. I quitclaimed my house to my most responsible son. Now he has blocked my calls
My brother-in-law died, leaving his house in a mess. His landlord wants me to repaint and replace the carpet. What should we do?

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