Junkfood Science: When healthcare isn’t about caring

October 21, 2007

When healthcare isn’t about caring

Even a man who has devoted his life to charitable work to help the poor, sick and disadvantaged is being denied medical care because he is “too fat.” Bishop Gow has been told he must starve himself to lose weight before he would be considered for an operation that could relieve him of excruciating pain from a degenerative knee disorder. The Herald Sun reports:

Bishop too fat for God's work

A bishop who has dedicated his life to the church has been refused surgery by a Victorian hospital because he is too fat. Bishop R.J. Gow of St Mary's House of Prayer, at Elaine, west of Ballarat, is in desperate need of a left knee replacement. “It's my praying knee," the good humoured priest said. “I'm having a lot of trouble walking and standing at the altar."

Three months ago the clergyman, 66, was referred to an orthopedic surgeon....“I made an appointment, but within five minutes of them seeing me they said 'unless you lose weight you won't be having surgery here'"... Since that first appointment he lost 15kg in 11 weeks and is now 132kg. [290 pounds; BMI 39]] “They told me to lose 17 kilos before I came back," he said. “But when I came back they told me I'd have to lose another five before I see the anaesthetist on October 26. “The only way I can do that is to starve myself."

Bishop Gow said he was annoyed at the level of discrimination towards overweight people. “This is a hospital discriminating against people who are overweight," he said. “They're excluding people and I'm not the only one. I heard them saying to the person in front of me that they would also have to lose weight before an operation. “I questioned her about it and she said it was hospital policy.... “But what really annoyed me was I had a look around the hospital and there were empty beds. What's happening with our health care?"

The story of continual denials and delays is similar to stories we’ve heard around the world of people cruelly denied pain relief and the chance to return to functional living simply because they are fat. This is a slippery slope of denying care to those with other physical characteristics seen as undesirable, or whose care needs extra care on our part. People engaging in high-impact sports and running are not being denied the same surgeries; they aren't told to just stop running. Yet, fat people can't just stop being fat. Neither idea will fix a degenerated joint, either.

The belief that fat people don’t deserve joint replacements because these surgeries aren’t as successful for them and would be a waste of public healthcare resources is not only unfounded, but betrays a greater prejudice: blaming degenerative joint diseases and other health problems as being their own fault.

The evidence is in stark contrast to such prejudices. Studies showing how “obese” fare after joint surgeries were reviewed earlier this spring. The bulk of the evidence shows that with proper care there is no need for fat patients to have poorer outcomes. In fact, one year outcomes among more than 1500 joint surgery patients found the obese patients enjoy just as much improvement as any other patients.

Healthcare is caring for people and if it cannot even bring itself to care for those who’ve devoted their entire lives for others, what does it say about us?

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