Age? Gender? BMI?


A hospital in the Lone Star State has decided that not everything should be bigger by regulating potential employees based on their body mass index (BMI).

However, under heavy criticism (yay puns), this hospital in Victoria, Texas, has ended the policy (or, in the very-not-eloquent words of Jezebel, “reverses the terribly dumb no fatties rule”).

The hospital’s CEO justified the policy by saying: “We have the ability as an employer to characterize our process and to have a policy that says what’s best for our business and for our patients.” In other words, it wanted its health workers to have professional personal appearances.

The BMI requirement for this rule is less than 35 (here’s a useful chart). This policy is not illegal in Texas, nor is it illegal in any state besides Michigan (its anti-weight discrimination law was enacted in 1976).

Basically, we have one side saying that obesity is unprofessional in a healthcare environment and another side saying that it isn’t and that if it is, it shouldn’t matter because that would be discrimination.

Is obesity a disability? A disease? A direct result of personal choices? Or an unfortunate condition caused by one’s financial background? Since it is likely a combination of all the above, it becomes complicated (remember the huge debate on whether airlines are obliged to provide two seats for the morbidly obese? That was a polarizing debate). In addition, unlike race, gender, and sexuality, it is controllable to a certain degree*. Being obese also has intrinsic negative health consequences that are not caused by society discrimination.

In my opinion, there is no question that this hospital is discriminating based on weight (the fact that this is technically legal in 49 states still shocks me) and the CEO might had as well admitted that he and the patients did not like looking at fat people.

But to what degree can a hospital require its employees to “look professional?” It certainly can forbid them from cursing or smoking or not wearing uniforms, but can they ban them from face tattoos? Eating fast food in front of the patients? Or smelling bad? How far can hospitals go before it becomes unethical? We also must keep in mind that a mission of all hospitals is to provide the patients the most comfortable environment possible.

If obesity is a result of personal choice, it certainly is not that different from smelling bad, and I am guessing that the CEO holds this view. As a society, we already “look discriminate:” we don’t ever see fat news anchors or obese clothing store clerks, and at this modern era, an obese person being elected as president is quite unimaginable. We “look discriminate,” we just don’t write them down (I can already see it: “The President of the United States of America must be a native-born U.S. citizen, lived in the U.S. for at least fourteen years, an age of at least 35 and BMI of at most 35”). If you have the option of hiring two people with the exact same expertise and one is obese while the other one is not, which one do you hire?

Obesity is not simply a result of personal choice, and this was one reason why the hospital’s discriminatory policy was rightfully under heavy attack. But the question still persists: How much can hospitals demand from their employees to ensure a quality environment for their patients?


*An interesting article Grace wrote about recently that looks at obesity at a different angle in case you missed it.

Your Apple Juice May be Killing You…Seriously

TV host, Dr. Oz, and the FDA have gone to war over apple juice after he claimed on his show that the arsenic levels in many brands are poisoning consumers.  According to a recent Atlantic Wire article, the FDA is failing miserably to debunk this latest health hysteria despite its best attempt.  It looks like in this battle royale between a bureaucratic governmental agency and a charming TV personality, the TV personality is winning.  The FDA just doesn’t have the same adoring legion of (mostly) female fans.

The deeper issue (believe it or not) lies beyond whether your apple juice is killing you.  Rather, I think this latest incident calls to question the intentionality and the repercussions of Dr. Oz’s proclamation.  Is it morally reprehensible that Dr. Oz is fanning the health hysteria if he truly believes it?  Debatable. Is it sad that so many Americans are brain-washed by what they see on TV? Definitely.

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Side effects of capitalism

In recent years, Duke Medicine has toed the line on an ethical issue that has come into the spotlight this week.

Dr. Victor Tapson – a researcher and faculty member here at Duke – has been unfavorably singled out in a report produced by the Senate Finance Committee because of his financial ties to pharmaceutical company Sanofi.

It’s definitely not out of the ordinary for a medical researcher to act as a sort of pharmaceutical sponsor – giving presentations on behalf of certain drugs in return for large sums of money. In fact, as the Duke Chronicle reported last December, the University is proud of its policies regarding such relationships. However, in a presentation to the Federal Drug Administration, Tapson allegedly did just what these policies try to prevent – he showed undue bias in favor of a Sanofi product while conveniently failing to mention his $260,604 tie to the company.

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Watch out Baby Boomers…for Robots!


In the era of aging baby boomers, we are concerned about many things: the death of social security, the rise of medical costs, and the overcrowding of nursing homes.  One thing that I am sure we have not considered is the rise of robots.

Yes, you heard (read) me correctly – robots.  According to a February 3rd BBC News article, Japan is pioneering `a caretaker robot for the elderly.  Ri-Man is his name, and he is currently on the market!

Given the declining birthrate, loosening family ties, and strict immigration laws, nursing home workers are in high-demand in Japan.  Leave it up to Toyota and Honda to decide that in addition to automated vehicles, they could produce automated nannies as well!  Ri-Man may be native to Japan, but he could soon be looking after of our baby boomers.  The U.S is also in dire need of elderly care-takers.

Although I was initially very excited by the technology behind Ri-Man, I quickly grew unsettled by the idea.  At first, I couldn’t pinpoint the source of my uneasiness.  After all, robots are appliances, and I use appliances all the time.  My coffee-maker brews my coffee, my microwave heats up my ramen, my straightener tames my hair – I even use an electric toothbrush for goodness sake!  So, why am I so bothered by Ri-Man when I am perfectly content to have technology assist me in every other aspect of my life?

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