Are you easily embarrassed? If so, don’t become a doctor.

In a jaw-dropping article for the Spectator, Max Pemberton says that bariatric surgeons – those who specialise in the care of obese patients – face some particularly awkward situations:

“There is a great demand for bariatric surgeons. One of them, Sally Norton, recently wrote in the Royal College of Surgeons’ house journal that without special equipment for the obese, there may be ‘enquiries into the potential use of veterinary or zoological scanners, with resultant loss of dignity for the patient’.”

One can only imagine the conversation: “We’re going to have to move you to London Zoo, Mr Smith. The elephant house, to be precise.”

Pemberton – himself a doctor – describes the increasing financial burden that obesity places on our public services. He doesn’t only mean the indirect impact of the various medical conditions that become more likely with excess weight, but also the direct cost of dealing with outsized patients:

“Take the East Midlands Ambulance Service. It emerged this week that it has been picking up so many fat patients — weighing in excess of the 28-stone maximum — that it needs a new fleet…”

“Once the obese patient is in hospital, a whole new set of equipment is required: reinforced operating tables, sturdier trollies, longer needles and even wider MRI scanners… There is a cost to all this: in the kit, and in operations like gastric bypass operations, which have increased sevenfold over the last seven years…

“Over the past five years, fire services have been called to more than 2,700 incidents to assist ‘severely obese’ people, including some who had got stuck in the bath. Rescuing fatties is now a routine operation, with its own entry in the Fire Brigade incident reporting system (filed under ‘bariatric persons’).”

The causes of obesity are complex and vary from person to person. There are many reasons why some people are more prone to gaining weight than others (and why the population as a whole is getting fatter). But, here’s the crucial point – these causal factors, while undoubtedly present, are not overwhelmingly powerful:

“An in-depth study published last year, which looked at the genes of more than 20,000 people and was conducted at the Medical Research Council’s epidemiology unit in Cambridge, found some people are predisposed to be overweight. But an active lifestyle and reducing food intake can counteract that. Simple. While some will be annoyed by this research, I find it empowering.”

For most people all that is required is a little more effort. But in Britain today that is precisely what we are less prepared to give:

“The rate of people considered clinically obese has risen from around 1 to 2 per cent of the population in the 1960s to over 25 per cent now. Why? 

“…what really stands out, more than the lifestyle differences, is the sharp contrast in the attitudes towards obesity between the two different eras… 40 years ago only 7 per cent of those people who considered themselves overweight had failed to do anything about it, compared with nearly half now.”

Pemberton blames the “reluctance of patients to accept that ailments can be blamed on their behaviour, for which they are reluctant to take responsibility.” But one has to ask if laziness and irresponsibility is all there is to it.

On issues from abortion to the use of recreational drugs, what people are told to think these days is that ‘it’s my body and I can do what I like with it.’ The traditional belief that ‘the body is the temple of the soul’ and that it’s your duty to keep it in good order has gone out the window.

Indeed, the very idea that we have souls, has been thoroughly and deliberately marginalised. Within this view of human existence, anything that limits our freedom to use and abuse our bodies limits everything that we are.

Therefore, to suggest that our personal choices might involve a duty of care not only to ourselves but to society in general is to strike at our now impoverished conception of personal autonomy.

30 comments for: Heresy of the week: Your body is not yours to do with as you wish

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.