"I felt like putting a bullet between the eyes of every Panda that wouldn't screw to save its species. I wanted to open the dump valves on oil tankers and smother all the French beaches I'd never see. I wanted to breathe smoke. I wanted to destroy something beautiful."
-- Jack

Culture of Entitlement

Well, the Ontario Court of Appeal has just ruled that victims of West Nile Virus can’t sue the Government of Ontario for negligence. The suit alleges that the government should have “prevented the outbreak” of WNV . How on earth they expect that to happen when the reservoir is in birds and the disease is transmitted by insects is absolutely beyond me. Lawyers for the plaintiffs go on to say that this ruling now means that no one can sue over a future Walkerton, or for victims of the second wave of SARS. Talk about a comparison of apples and oranges.

I have to confess that this whole case infuriates me. The threat of West nile Virus to humans is so much smaller than that posed by diseases like SARS or malaria. People in Africa have just lived with West Nile for ages. Nobody bothered to create a vaccine for it. (In fact, there has been a WNV vaccine for horses for years, which just goes to show where people’s priorities lay – race horses, which are admittedly far more susceptible to the virus, were more important that the very few people who developed serious complications.) Only now that it has shown up in the Western world does anyone in this province even know this disease’s name. Expecting to be able to sue the government for negligence over a disease contracted from a mosquito bite just seems to show how spoiled people can be in this country.

6 Responses to “Culture of Entitlement”

  1. It’s the usual skewed risk perception that makes people fear those things that are unlikely to pose a real threat. Terrorism is the big bugaboo in the US, with the majority of the population showing an extreme fear of being the subject of a terrorist plot. Or, in another example, of being in an airplane crash. Most of the fear seems to have to do with the inability to control it: while far more people died in car accidents post 9/11 (out of fear of being in a plane with a terrorist on board, MANY more people started commuting/travelling by car), the general populace at least felt they could, to some extent, control the outcome. Laughable (in a sad way), yes, but extremely human reaction. We fear most those things we either don’t understand, or can’t control.

    I agree that SARS and Walkerton were different stories (though, for the former, no one realized at the time the contagiousness of the disease: it was originally felt to be due to direct contact with infected secretions, but as time went on and more knowledge was gained, it was found that the virus can become aerosolized, and spread by microscopic droplets). Walkerton was an exercise in incompetence, though I feel that the two brothers (at least, I think they were brothers) who systematically fudged their data are more at fault than the government – my colleagues in London said the government bent over backwards to triage and air transport out people to get health care/dialysis/help.

    Here’s what we REALLY should be afraid of in Canada(when it comes to mortality):
    Heart disease/stroke – number 1 killer of Canadians, HANDS DOWN (more than 50% of deaths are attributable to this)
    Obesity (which contributes to the above three)
    Smoking (which also contributes to the top three)
    Accidents – number 1 killer of Canadian children
    Cancer – lung cancer being the number 1 killer cancer
    Influenza – and not bird flu: regular, run-of-the-mill “flu” kills MANY more people in Canada/worldwide

    In the developing world, here are the real killers:
    Civil conflict/war
    (As an addendum, in CERTAIN parts of the developing world, AIDS – contributes to deaths via diarrhea, pneumonia, malnutrition, etc)

    However, the media’s perception of risk:
    West Nile Virus
    Tax hikes (okay, I just had to put that one in!)

    It’s can be very trying as a physician, attempting to instill healthy priorities in one’s patients. For example, I had a mom who was slathering her teen in DEET, having him wear mosquito proof net clothing, and keeping him away from camps for fear of him contracting WNV – when I was politely trying to have her see that the fact that he was morbidly obese, had developed type 2 diabetes (the adult type, which is actually starting to take over as the more common form of diabetes in children because of obesity), was hypertensive, and “rarely” wore his seatbelt were really the big risks he ran…

    Enough on my soap box – don’t get me started! :D

  2. Somehow over the last century, we’ve gone from demanding the opportunity to build a happy life directly to demanding that happy life itself. Increasingly, the government’s job has become to prevent any chance of adversity or tragedy, which just isn’t realistic.

    People don’t want the responsibility of managing their lives, so they foist it on the government and go back to whatever self-destructive behaviour they were originally engaged in. Personally, I try to take responsibility for my self-destructive behaviour… :-)

  3. Ah, the usual mantra of the masses these days: “save me from myself”…

  4. Grabber: Could you clarify around heart disease/stroke vs. Cancer?

    While this is 1997 data, Stats Can (http://www40.statcan.ca/l01/cst01/health36.htm) lists “Cancers” right up there with “Diseases of the Heart” (both attributing to about 27% of deaths) and notice how those two are an order of magnitude greater than the other categories!

    Do you have more up to date info?

  5. … and anyway, isn’t DEET carcinogenic?

    I do think that with Walkerton, the government is responsible – you hire someone QUALIFED for something like that, and you make sure that those qualifications are up to date. I really don’t know enough about the SARS issue to lay blame, but if the circumstances are different enough, a ruling on WNV shouldn’t have an effect on the SARS case. (Depending of course on the wording of the ruling, of course, which I have not read…)

    In this case, it’s not that these people wanted to be saved from themselves (and believe me, I have a whole soapbox on that one too!). It’s that they honestly expect someone to be responsible for the unexpected things that life throws at you. Things happen. I mean, who am I going to sue for my herniated disk? It’s no one’s fault, it just happened, and it doesn’t appear that there is much anyone could have done to prevent it (OK, maybe I should have taken a cab home from the airport – but then maybe I would have put it out on the stairs into my house!). A friend of mine lost his arm when a part of the Niagara escarpment gave way & buried him. Another got his memory scrambled when a virus mutated and got into his brain. Sometimes we have to accept that bad things happen and no one is at fault for them. It’s sad, but it’s life.

  6. For BogMan:

    In epidemiological studies, “vascular disease” (blood vessel disease, usually atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries) includes BOTH heart disease (heart attacks, congestive heart failure, etc) and strokes (which is a disease of the brain vessels). Put together, heart and brain vessel disease still kills more Canadians than cancer does.

    As for obesity, hypertension, and smoking, these are indeed risk factors predisposing to the big killers of Canadians. Statistics makes things muddy, however, when one tries to quantify their actual “magnitude” of killing: for example, recently it was shouted from the rooftops that obesity was overtaking tobacco as a killer. Again, it’s hard to quantify: you need to extrapolate the risk ratio of being obese with heart disease/cancer/etc versus the risk ratio of tobacco and the same diseases, and try to take into account those people who straddle both categories (i.e. the obese smoker). All in all, it’s been undisputed that heart disease AND stroke are the biggest killers, and the rest of my list was in no particular order!

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