Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Tony Clement has Jumped the Shark

I said a while back that our erstwhile federal Minister of Health, Tony Clement, should resign. I stand by that statement, particular in light of this and this. In fact, I'd say Tony has simply jumped the shark, and like a TV series that undergoes major cast changes to ill effect, it's time that he was cancelled. In fact, it may be necessary to disband the whole network. Exhibit A:
MONTREAL - Health professionals who support Vancouver's safe injection site are unethical and immoral, federal Health Minister Tony Clement suggested on Monday.

"The supervised injection site undercuts the ethic of medical practice and sets a debilitating example for all physicians and nurses, both present and future in Canada," he scolded in an address to the Canadian Medical Association general council meeting in Montreal.

He called providing a safe injection site to drug addicts tantamount to offering palliative care to a patient with a treatable form of cancer.
So, we have the spectacle of health minister calling some 79% of Canadian physicians (and, one would presume, nurses too) "unethical" and "immoral" since they are doing the equivalent of witholding treatment from cancer patients.

Or so he claims - it is, of course, quite right that witholding care from patients for spurious ideological reasons would be profounding unethical, but that is exactly what Clement is calling for. The entire purpose of a supervised injection site is to prevent deaths due to overdose, limit the spread of blood-borne diseases through the sharing of needles, and provide access to treatment programs and counselling... and that's exactly what Vancouver's InSite does. In fact, Clement's position is all the more ridiculous since he supports needle exchange programs, in which intravenous drug users are provided with clean needles, with the aim of - wait for it - limiting or even preventing ths spread of blood-borne diseases through the sharing of used needles. A supervised injection site does exactly the same thing, except that there are nurses around to prevent fatal overdoses. Oh, and such a site provides an access point for referrals toward drug treatment, something that Clement putatively wants to see happen more.

And that's great - we absolutely should support expanded drug treatment programs - so when is Minister Clement and his government going to start funding them properly? Clement asks:
Is it true that supervised injections offer 'positive health outcomes?' I would not put it this way. Insite [Vancouver's safe injection site] may slow the death spiral of a deadly drug habit, but it does not reverse it. I do not regard this as a positive health outcome.
It's rather important to point out that intravenous drug users - assuming they don't contract and die from AIDS or Hepatitis - often die following a fatal overdose. Of course, Insite exists explicitly to prevent fatal overdoses.

Which is better, preventing a heroin user from overdosing, shooting up on the street, and subsequently referring him to treatment, or letting him OD and die in an alley?

In short, Clement's position is nonsensical and, at worst, downright unethical. The real motivation is clear enough, though:
The new Conservative ad campaign picks up where Mr. Clement's message leaves off with its call to "keep junkies in rehab and off the streets." It includes pictures of the party leaders and asks which of them is on track to fight crime.

The text reads: "Thugs, drug pushers and others involved in the drug trade are writing their own rules. For too long, lax Liberal governments left gangs and drug pushers to make their own rules and set their own criminal agenda. Those days are over."
My head is spinning from such dazzling rhetoric! Anyway, I don't know about anyone else, but I tend to agree that "junkies" ought to be off the streets. Rehab is an excellent alternative, but the facilities are not currently sufficient to the task, and since all "junkies" will not be able or willing to enter treatment immediately, it's better that they use clean needles and, say, not die due to an overdose. I'd think that's pretty obvious.

Unless you're a federal Conservative, that is.

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