Hubris, Helplessness, Compassion, and Respect

Hubris, helplessness, compassion, and respect surface in a remarkably complete examination of the implications arising from deeming obesity to be a disease. Just published in Narrative Inquiry in Bioethics, this narrative symposium is required reading for anyone who wants to spout an opinion on the subject.

The symposium includes 12 personal accounts (15 online) of experiences with excess weight and obesity, covering a wide range of perspectives on the implications of obesity as a disease. Sarah Bramblette provides a powerful opening to this symposium:

My body mass index classifies me as super morbidly obese, however my overall vital health statistics would indicate otherwise. I celebrated the American Medical Association’s classification of obesity as a disease for several reasons. First, obesity as a disease involves other medical complications of which I have none, so finally perhaps I can say I am not obese, I am just fat. I am fat, as in my weight is caused by Lipedema and Lymphedema. Lipedema is a congenital condition, which causes my body to produce and accumulate abnormal amounts of adipose tissue in my legs, hips, thighs, and arms.

The second reason I celebrated obesity being classified as a disease was the hope that more research would be conducted on the actual causes and treatment of obesity and that research might include adipose tissue disorders. My vital health statistics are all normal, yet I still face challenges getting proper treatment in healthcare.

Sarah is an impressive advocate for change in the face of shoddy treatment that people with excess weight and obesity receive at the hands of healthcare providers.

The range of the personal stories presented extends to people who are deeply offended and fear — with good reason — that deeming obesity a disease will lead to more of the shameful treatment they have already received. Lauren Moore explains:

The AMA’s decision to further medicalise my body and refer to it as diseased — a body that I love, a body that is carrying me around with no health problems, is just another reason for me to fear the medical establishment that wants to hurt me and have me thank them for it.

The personal accounts are then given further context by five noted experts with a very broad spectrum of expertise ranging from obesity medicine to the humanities. Memorably, bioethicist John Sadler relates the offensive hubris of healthcare providers to their own helplessness in addressing the needs of their patients.

The inescapable conclusion from this symposium is that we must do better than the current deplorable mistreatment dispensed by many healthcare providers to people with excess weight.

The hubris and helplessness of providers must give way to compassion and respect before we can start doing better.

“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive.” — Dalai Lama

Click here to access this narrative symposium and click here to read more from Sarah Bramblette.

Compassion, detail from The Sortie Made by the Garrison of Gibraltar, painting by John Trumbull

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