The Mail

May 1 2000

The Mail

May 1 2000
Journalists slam Canada’s public health system and its staffers at their peril, as Barbara Amiel discovered with her April 17 column, “Why we need private medicine. ” The e-mail flood started immediately, followed quickly by a torrent of faxes and mailed letters. Their main complaints: Amiel’s depiction of nurses as “increasingly loutish and indifferent, ” her contention that “our best doctors go to America, ” and her references to using her connections to help people get quicker medical attention. Amiel’s mail usually splits roughly equally pro and con. This time, of the 130 letters received by the end of last week, only four were even vaguely supportive.

Apology in order

Barbara Amiel’s attack on the nursing profession is infuriating. She attempts to place the blame for the indifference in Canada’s health-care system squarely on the shoulders of its most dedicated and underappreciated professionals. Nursing is more than “night shifts,” watching clients “smell and ooze and die.” Nurses function in capacities far beyond that of the “saint.” The hundreds of thousands of nurses practicing in Canada have chosen the profession for a variety of reasons, but remain in it because they can visualize a future in which the health of Canadians is the best in the world. Amiel owes nurses across this country an apology. Lisa Ann Magerman, RN, B.Sc.N, Toronto www.macleans.ca for more letters about Amiel

Why, with her wealth, power and influence, did Barbara Amiel not move her sister’s father-in-law into the well-established private system in Britain (a system that has led to the deterioration of the public system she decries)? Why is she unaware that the “best doctors” do not stop working because their income is capped and that a public system does not smother physicians with paperwork, but a private system (à la the United States and managed care) certainly does. Monetary return to investors (her criterion of efficiency) does not apply to public facilities. Dr. Brian J. Sproule, Edmonton

On behalf of the nurses of Canada, I wish to express our absolute outrage. Barbara Amiel’s claim that the less capable in society are opting for a career in nursing because there is nowhere else for them to go is absurd and offensive. The decision to become a nurse today means meeting the requirements of gruelling and intellectually challenging academic and clinical training. Many of Canadas top researchers and policymakers are nurses. Amiel managed only to confuse the debate over health-care delivery and reinforce stereotypes that have nothing to do with the reality of an autonomous profession with a long and proud tradition. Nurses are not saints or martyrs; they are professionals entrusted with the physical and psychological well-being of patients who are at their most vulnerable. Lynda Kushnir Pekrul, RN, President, Canadian Nurses Association, Ottawa

Please publish Barbara Amiel’s phone number so that all Canadians, not just a select few, can call her when they need strings pulled. P. J. Straka, Calgary

Barbara Amiel has subjected us to another erratic rant. We could have been spared the self-absorbed ego strokes of “string pulling.” Perhaps more appalling was the ludicrous broad-brushed attack on both the integrity and dignity of the nursing profession in the country. Paul Currie, Halifax

If I sent you an opinion piece in which I asserted that Canadian journalists were ignorant and illiterate, and that all the good ones move to the United States; if I claimed that I knew for a fact that the press habitually panders to the influential by killing bad publicity or by slanting the news in their favor; if I stated that nowhere in the world has lower standards in journalism than Canada—would you publish it? Edward Mullens, Toronto

As a general practitioner plying my trade in rural Ontario, I believe I am qualified to respond to Barbara Amiel’s sermon from the mount of privilege. My experience indicates that many of our best doctors are quietly going about their work in small-town Canada. I would hazard a guess that many of those who have fled Stateside can be counted among our most avaricious, opportunistic, narcissistic and disaffected doctors. Amiel’s observation that “intelligent and higher-quality people naturally choose less strenuous work” is a vicious insult to the legions of dedicated nursing personnel. The problem is not that the elderly are at the bottom, but that the smug, self-serving business and political elite and their accessories, such as Amiel, are at the top. Dr. Jan Raczycki, Clinton, Ont.

Barbara Amiel’s rant on Canada's health-care system makes one good point, albeit unintentionally. It is precisely because we do not wish to be reliant on string pulling to get access to private care that Canadians want an adequately funded public system. Jack Glenn, Calgary

How I tire of the affluent touting private medicine. W. Jon McCormick, Lone Butte, B.C.

If I follow her argument to its unspoken conclusion, what she appears to be suggesting is that since public health care is presently in such a deplorable state, what we need is private health care so that at least the very wealthy may have access to a superior system. Gee, that should help all of the poor, elderly people who she has suddenly developed a sympathy for. Angeles Espinaco-Virseda, Edmonton

I love Barbara Amiel’s essays and offer plaudits for what she said about the Canadian health-care system. But what do we do about it? There is no consensus, no one to follow, and no time to waste in dithering. Concrete suggestions would be invaluable. Marnie Pomeroy, Ottawa

You are getting sleepy

We all know that people lose sleep during the early years of parenting, that teens are always tired and that there are sleepy drivers on the highways (“Are you getting enough sleep?” Cover, April 17). We may not be so aware of the rippling impact that those things have on everyone, because we look at the world very differently through tired eyes. I’m always concerned, for example, when I hear that a collective agreement has been hammered out at 3 in the morning. Are both sides happy, or was it an endurance contest and control game? What about the increasing numbers of rotating shift workers, long-shift workers (including single parents) and families with two shift-working parents? People need to become more ruthless about getting quality sleep, and the corporate/government sectors need to look at the real costs of having tired workers. Erik Little, Markham, Ont.

I was grateful to see such a prominent Canadian magazine drawing attention to the problem of sleep deprivation. Unfortunately, the majority of those affected have become accustomed to functioning with less sleep, and as they have no means of assessing their degree of impairment, the consequences will continue to mount. Adding to this problem is the fact that approximately four million Canadians have a sleep disorder, yet 90 per cent remain un-diagnosed. Sleep/Wake Disorders Canada (1-800-387-9253) is the only national voluntary health organization that provides information, education and support on sleep and its disorders. Betty Anne Richard, Vice-President, Sleep/Wake Disorders Canada, Amherstburg, Ont.

Winston Churchill was misplaced among your pantheon of famous persons requiring little sleep to get through the day. Although he frequently stayed up long into the night, Churchill regularly undressed and retired to bed after lunch for a sound sleep, and he was definitely not an early riser by habit the following morning. Bruce E. Macdonald, Ottawa

Sudan tragedy

Your article powerfully portrays the tragedy of Sudan (“Freeing the slaves of Sudan,” Cover, April 10). Aid groups who engaged Talisman Energy in dialogue, however, aimed for more than mitigation. Oil revenue should not fuel war. And independent human-rights monitoring can ensure Talisman lives up to the international code of ethics it officially adopted last December. The code requires companies not to be complicit in human-rights abuses. Shareholders of Talisman should ask some hard questions at their May 3 meeting about the documented, forced and violent displacements of civilians by the same army that guards Talisman oilfields and how Talisman understands the meaning of complicity. Dave Toycen, President, World Vision Canada, Mississauga, Ont.

Astronautical grant

Regarding your Passages item about Roberta Bondar and her photography book and exhibit Passionate Vision—Discovering Canada’s National Parks (April 17), Bondar applied for a Millennium Fund grant for her project to photograph all of Canada's national parks as a record and legacy of our country’s protected areas, as viewed from space and on land. The fund required the recipient to raise $2 privately for every $1 of the fund. To date, the Passionate Vision project has received $481,000 from the Millennium Fund, and the rest from Bondar and the private sector. Besides her PhD and medical degree, Bondar studied nature photography at the prestigious Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara, Calif. As well, all astronauts are trained to use the Hasselblad camera. Christine Yankou, member of Passionate Vision Project, Toronto

Rich ‘jokers’

Kudos to Anthony Wilson-Smith for his brilliant take on “Our Monty Python CEOs” (April 17). I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard these whining multimillionaires, along with their chief whiner, Thomas d’Aquino of the Business Council on National Issues, demand, yet again, that the feds cut income taxes for high earners. Did these poor souls have even a smidgen of an idea that the rest of us are calling, not for tax cuts, but for reinvestment in health care, education and the social safety net? Until these jokers can come down off their high horses and explain, for example, the necessity for CEOs to earn 200 times the wage of their workers, we shall continue to take their every utterance with a very large grain of salt. Maggie Laidlaw, Guelph, Ont.

Gun registration

As an avid multidiscipline competitive shooter, I read with much interest the article “Gun smarts” (Canada and the World, April 17). I find it telling though that your article states: “Canada’s level of gun violence is so low that law enforcement agencies have trouble getting the funds to buy his equipment— known as IBIS, for Integrated Ballistics Identification System” (a computerized system of connecting bullets to the guns they were shot from, with a price tag of $874,000 per unit). However, the federal government is willing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on a system for registering all the firearms in Canada, which I and many others argue will have little effect on the already low level of gun violence in this country. This reminds me of a quote by the American editor H. L. Mencken: “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed and hence clamorous to be led to safety by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.” Massimo Novati, Oromocto, N.B.

A happy reader

Keep up the good work. I just stopped my subscription to Time magazine after 20 years. Every week, Maclean’s is full of interesting articles and is always getting better. American magazines by contrast keep getting more and more lightweight. Tina Naftali, Montreal

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