Talk about ‘no country for old men’ – it’s no country for old women either. Apparently some doctors in Britain don’t want to treat people who are old or obese. According to the BBC, "About one in 10 hospitals [in the U.K.] already deny some surgery to obese patients and smokers, with restrictions most common in hospitals battling debt."
And this is not an opinion limited to the British. A new bill in Mississippi would make it illegal for restaurants to serve obese customers. The legislation, introduced by three members of the state’s House of Representatives, would allow health inspectors to revoke the license of any restaurant that "repeatedly" feeds extremely overweight people. I get the feeling that a lot of people are, if you will excuse the pun, fed up with people who are overweight. (I do hope you will excuse the pun. I couldn't think of another way to phrase it.)
I can see doctors getting exasperated with people whose behavior made them unwell. But not treating people because they’re old? That’s not just saying Do Not Resuscitate, which is after all supposed to be decided by the patient. This is more like the insurance company that refused a liver transplant to that sick teenage girl. (They argued about it until she was too sick to have the operation performed anyway, basically Death by Red Tape.) Where do you draw the line on how much money to spend on a patient?
Even if the doctors are exasperated, what good will come from stopping treatment because the patient is morbidly obese? All it would do is cause more suffering. It won’t stop people from becoming obese. This article got me thinking about Worst Case Scenarios, the kind of measures the governments might take if we continue to gain weight at this rate. Taking things to a logical extreme, I came up to a few possible W.C. scenarios:
- They could pass a law that those of us who have more than 30% body fat must go to a nutritional counselor or physical trainer. Like sending someone who has trouble driving to traffic school. Or sending an alcoholic to rehab. You can’t force someone to stop overeating or under-exercising, but you can make it clear what the consequences of this behavior are. Something along the lines of showing children pictures of a smoker’s lungs, showing pictures of untreated diabetes?
- Or they might put a higher tax on junk food, as some states do with cigarettes, and use the money to fund nutritional education. Katharine at Editing My Body wrote about how expensive it is to eat well in America. Researchers found that the problem was worst in the rural South, which is a region where you could grow some kind of vegetable year ‘round. There’s a cultural bias against “Yankee” food, but it’s surely better to change a bias than to try to reverse diabetes or something like that.
- If I were really paranoid, the most extreme solution I can see would be forcing people to have gastric bypass surgery. Okay, that’s an extremely extreme solution, but it is similar, in thought if not in scale, with forcing people to wear helmets (or seat belts) or risk being fined. (I do wear helmets or seat belts, but the idea of being forced to look after myself is still annoying.)
These solutions all sound draconian, but not nearly as much as refusing to treat people altogether. That sounds like the voice of exasperation pushed to the point of being totally pissed off. It’s like they want to punish people for being unhealthy.
I suppose the thought behind refusing to treat the obese is based on the feeling that if you're fat, it's your own fault. The relationship between obesity and illness is seen as cause and effect, in the same way that jumping into a tiger’s cage can result in permanent loss of limb or life. If you make a deliberate, conscious choice, you should be prepared for the possible consequences. Fair enough, but not everyone makes a deliberate choice to live off junk food or become a couch potato. I think a lot of people become obese because we didn’t make a conscious choice to be anything else, following the path of
I know there are people who are morbidly obese due to factors beyond their control. Speaking for myself, my weight is my own fault. It would be easier to lose weight if my thyroid functioned like those lean greyhound-type people. (You know who I mean, the ones who can eat anything and remain thin.) But even as I am, I can lose weight if I work at it.
*********end of obligatory disclaimer****************
I still worry about the old people. I mean, who decides the definition of old? To me, old is a term applied to people who have been on this planet longer than I have. I’m not old, and I’ll thank all you young whippersnappers to remember that fact.
Some ancient tribes in the arctic supposedly would abandon their old people out on an ice floe when they got too old to work. Maybe that’s where we got the expression ‘go with the floe’ from. Okay, maybe not. I could see insurance companies wanting to return to that tradition. But it surprises me to find the same feeling is apparently so widespread among doctors. Am I being naive?