A Nova Scotia woman in need of bariatric surgery has reignited debate about the Canadian health care system’s timely response to obesity by writing her own mock obituary (via The Toronto Star) and emailing it to a handful of government and health officials.
Lillian Coakley, 42, wrote the obit as a form of protest against her provincial government’s exceedingly long wait times for bariatric surgery. In the email, Coakley laments her passing “at a young age due to complication with obesity that she fought for years to overcome.” The mother of two boys goes on to joke that she chose to be cremated rather than “be carried away to her final resting place by a tractor”.
Coakley also urges the email’s recipients to take her concerns to heart, writing, “People need to stop putting a stigma and sweeping weight loss surgery under the carpet and realize people are going to die on this waiting list.”
Coakley has a point. If she wants to have the surgery in her home province of Nova Scotia, the 372-pound woman may have to wait up to 10 years to get it. (Wait times in provinces that cover the surgery vary. In Ontario, the wait time has been reported as up to two years).
Bariatric surgery isn’t the only procedure that’s backlogged with waiting patients, however. According to a 2007 report by the Fraser Institute, surgical wait times are at an all-time high in Canada generally with people waiting anywhere from the average of 18 weeks to 38 weeks for orthopedic surgery.
Coakley’s email has gotten mixed responses, with some arguing she should try harder to lose weight on her own rather than look to a surgical intervention (Coakley also suffers from asthma and high blood pressure).
The DIY approach to weight-loss clearly doesn’t work for everyone, however. Moreover, anyone who thinks bariatric surgery is a pain- or risk-free solution is underestimating its complications. It’s not just major surgery; by altering the shape of an individual’s stomach it forever alters their relationship to food and comes with a number of challenges.
More importantly, there are studies that support its effectiveness. A 2010 article on CBC.ca cites a 2009 study, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal argues that patients who undergo the procedure decrease mortality from 40 to 89 per cent.
One physician spoke out on behalf of Coakley, telling the Toronto Star, health care delivery should operate according to need not prejudice. “Medicine isn’t about blame,” said Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, a founder of the Bariatric Medical Institute in Ottawa. “We’ll do liver transplants on people who are former alcoholics . . . We patch people up even if they don’t wear seatbelts.”