When Judgementalism Replaces Politics

Submitted by Janine on Fri, 12/01/2007 - 11:44

My soundtrack to yesterday morning was BBC Radio Five Live and its phone-in discussion about whether the NHS should refuse to operate on people who refuse to give up smoking. Apparently, a doctor has suggested that it should. Other doctors, to their credit, immediately responded that they have a duty to treat all patients who need them.

Several callers made valid points in defence of smokers' right to treatment. How many other medical treatments might we consider to have some element of 'contributory negligence' on the part of the patient? Before the NHS treats road accident victims, should it check that the accident was not their fault? If someone has a heart condition brought on by stress, should surgeons refuse to operate unless that person resigns from their stressful job? Perhaps a surgeon should only treat that sports injury if you promise to give up sport. And, of course, there's the billions of quid in tax that smokers pay.

But then, there was the parade of opinions in support of refusal. They deserve it. They know smoking will probably kill them. If they won't help themselves, why should the NHS help them? It was sickening. A smoker friend of mine is currently in hospital for tests and treatment for heart and circulation problems. These callers think that people like him should be left to die.

And it got me thinking. Health is a political issue. But rather than address the politics of it, some people prefer to denounce other people. And it's not just on the subject of health - phone-in programmes, tabloid letters pages and everyday conversations are peppered wtih people slagging off others, no doubt feeling better about themselves in doing so. Oh, if everyone were more like me, the world would be such a better place.

I'm not immune to feeling judgemental about others (particular when they drive inconsiderately). I have to admit to an increasing tendency to judgemental feelings as I get older. And I do think that government should encourage and help people to give up smoking, and should prevent them poisoning others around them.

But the idea that the way to improve society is to whip and punish individual other people is just bonkers. And the main reason for that is that it takes the focus right away from the political issues. While people were talking about smokers draining money out of the NHS, they were not talking about private companies doing so to a far greater extent. When people demand ASBOs on young people for doing little more than talking loudly on a street corner, they are not asking why there is nothing better for them to do in that area. When people convince themselves that they are really hard-working and everyone else is a scrounger, they stop asking why unemployment exists and whose interests it really serves.

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