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The Rev. Kenneth Dupin, a Methodist minister in Salem, Virginia, might just revolutionize the way our country deals with its ever increasing elderly population. After an emotional encounter with a woman confined to a nursing home, Dupin decided to develop a novel, if not controversial, alternative to sending our loved ones to living facilities that are often over-crowded and under-staffed: the MEDCottage —a small, self-contained living space that can be placed in the backyard.

The MEDcottage would be equipped with the latest technology to monitor vital signs, filter the air for contaminants and communicate with the outside world via high-tech video. Sensors could alert caregivers to an occupant’s fall, and a computer could remind the occupant to take medications. Technology could also provide entertainment, offering a selection of music, reading material and movies.

The dwelling would take up about as much room as a large shed and, like an RV, could connect to a single-family house’s electrical and water supplies. It could be leased for about $2,000 a month, a cost Dupin hopes will be borne by health insurers.

Some wonder, however, whether such a plan would undermine residential zoning laws and create an untenable precedent:
“Is it a good idea to throw people into a storage container and put them in your back yard?” said Fairfax County Supervisor Jeff C. McKay (D-Lee). “This is the granny pod. What’s next? The college dropout pod?”

Such temporary shelters might work in rural and sparsely developed parts of the state, McKay said, but the impact could be enormous in crowded urban and suburban areas.

“This basically sets up an opportunity to do something legally which, prior to this, had been illegal—which is to set up a second residence on a single-family property. It turns our zoning ordinance upside down,” McKay said.

If societies are judged by the way they treat widows and orphans, the weak and the helpless, will this kind of solution—and our response to its implementation—be able to withstand the judgment of posterity? Are we willing to sacrifice our well being for loved ones that have done the same for us? And what is an appropriate level of sacrifice?

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