Americans have right to discriminate

Freedom New Mexico

The war on obesity has come to this: Some doctors refuse to treat fat people. This latest twist in the war on obesity — which some characterize as a war on fat people — provides a counter to the odd assertion that health care is a right. It is not. We have only the right to pursue health care.

For fat people, the United States has become a challenging culture. Partly it is due to the federal government’s increasing involvement in health care allocation and funding. When government takes responsibility for public health, authorities have an obligation to discourage and reduce dangerous and unhealthful lifestyles. That is one reason first lady Michelle Obama has made a cause of reducing childhood obesity; why schools are eliminating junk food from vending machines and cafeterias; and why we are taxing soda and candy.

Another factor in the war on obesity involves our country’s obsession with beauty. Most celebrities are gorgeous and thin, with the exception of a few who used to be thin before getting fat and going to work for Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers. Thin has always been in, but it is more in style today than ever before. As a result, it is considered acceptable to be openly hostile and dismissive of fat people.

“No fatties allowed? That seems to be the policy of some doctors in Florida,” said a May 17 story by CBS News.

A poll found that 14.2 percent of doctors surveyed refuse to treat obese patients, even if they are otherwise healthy. Though the poll was in Florida, it is a good bet doctors throughout the country discriminate against the obese. The survey found that doctors worry about fat patients damaging their exam tables. Others said fat patients pose difficult medical conditions.

“There’s more risk of something going wrong and more risk of getting sued,” said Dr. Albert Triana, of Miami.

Some medical ethicists are crying foul. The discrimination scandalizes fat and thin people alike. Morally, it may be wrong for a physician to turn away a fat person.

But this country has never passed a civil rights law to protect people from discrimination on a basis of weight. That is why Southwest and a few other airlines are starting to charge fat passengers for two seats. Federal law forbids major discrimination on a basis of race and gender, and other legal jurisdictions forbid discrimination based on religion, nationality, sexual orientation and an assortment of other factors. Few jurisdictions, if any, forbid discrimination on a basis of weight.

Fat people illustrate the important fact that Americans remain free to discriminate, which is a freedom we must have if we are to enjoy freedom of association and free speech. If we cannot discriminate against the fat, the hateful, the ugly, the homeless, the rich — or those who are rude and unkempt — we are deprived the ability to discern.

Doctors who refuse to treat fat people may be obnoxious, uncaring and unkind. But they practice medicine at will, on the patients they choose. Society cannot force one private person to serve another. That is why we cannot possibly have a “right” to health care while upholding the fundamental American tenets of freedom.