Friday, June 29

Too Fat for Parenthood?

I'd like to relate to you a situation that examples just one of many ways that discrimination based on body weight has reached ludicrous 'official' proportions. I might add that the UK, USA and Australia share so much legislation and culture that I consider anything taken seriously in one as a potential in the other, and all have a myriad of issues with this subject.

Kylie  Lannigan of Victoria, Australia, has PCOS, polycystic ovarian syndrome. It can occur in girls as young as 11, and is the most common reason for women who are unable to conceive children. The list of side effects are a real bummer for the people who have it; not counting infertility, hirsutism (hair growth in annoying places), acne and other issues, one of the most common reasons we see people with this in the lowcarb world is because it tends to induce weight gain or actual obesity, usually in the torso area (the "apple" shaped figure). It can put them at "greater risk of" high blood pressure or high cholesterol or Type II Diabetes, but then, so can a zillion other factors, and the weight alone could do that, with or without PCOS.

In case you think this is rare, it is astoundingly common: About 1 in 10 women of childbearing age, is the current estimate of PCOS prevalance.

The Lannigans had fertility treatments, but alas the only result of that is, seven years ago Kylie tragically miscarried a baby girl at 22 weeks. Further attempts at IVF (in-vitro fertilization) were not successful.

Not surprisingly, couples with a PCOS woman are likely to consider adopting children, and three years ago, the Lannigans, desperate for a child, finally sought that route to parenthood.

It seemed hopeful. They owned a home, had been married for ten years, and were both employed full time: Kylie is a chef, while her husband supervises a vineyard. They wanted to begin the adoption process while she was still young enough to be considered a good candidate.

Kylie weighs 278 lbs and is about 5 foot 7 inches tall, but although technically obese, Kylie walks to work and night school every day, she had testing for heart disease and diabetes and was cleared as free of both, and so aside from the inconvenience it may give her, her body weight is not a worthy issue to adoption, nor did the people they interviewed with seem concerned about it.

The initial documentation and interviews mentioned that serious health reasons could potentially disqualify an applying adoptive parent, but although PCOS is a bummer (to understate it) for the people who have it, it's not like it means you're going to Keel Over Any Minute Now(tm). PCOS is not considered a disqualifying health issue.

If they did bias against that, they'd not only be disqualifying 1 in 10 women, but singling out the vast majority of the women most likely to want to adopt a child!

Three years later...

THREE YEARS the Lannigans have spent in the tedious, stressful, delaying bureaucracy of the application process. Kylie is 29 now, and nearing the age when she is no longer considered ideal for adopting an infant child. She and her husband went to seminars, had medical, police and finance checks and a home assessment, everything requested, everything that would give them a chance to make it happen, for years.

Finally, after all that, the Department of Human Services adoption counselors came out for yet another interview, and told them what wonderful parents they would be.

Too Fat to Adopt, AFTER three years of bureacracy, DESPITE having PCOS, a medical condition that causes weight gain but otherwise does not impede anything related to childrearing.

Except, they added, Kylie is too fat to be considered qualified to parent.

They told her she would need to lose 114 lbs to qualify for a BMI rating that would make them acceptable to adopt.

She has lost 26 lbs so far. But as she mentioned in an interview, she doesn't even have time to lose another 88 lbs to qualify for their demands. She'll be considered too old to be ideal to adopt an infant (over 30) by then, and that's even if everything went perfectly, despite her body's strong tendency to obesity, and even if, like some improbable Disney-movie ending, all the weight just fell off.

The agency, rather than 'rejecting' their application, 'suspended' it with an "unless" caveat: so severe a weight loss, with such a time limit based on standard policies, that they may as well have rejected it. In fact, all 'suspending' with that kind of requirement really does is reject it but without their having to defend in court what right they had to do that.

Kylie's weight was no secret three years ago when they began this process, but nobody thought to mention to her that "fat" on its own would disqualify her. Do you think a government agency would openly advertise, "Don't apply to adopt a child unless you are thin?" Maybe they should. It would have saved years of time and a lot of money and emotional investment on the Lannigans's part.

Thought to consider: With the US and UK medical experts recommending "intervention" including seizure of children from parents if the children are obese, this brings up an interesting alternative: If people are too fat to be good parents at her weight, and this is official enough for a government-based agency to rule on, at what weight will social services eventually decide to seize children from perfectly good parents for the parents' crime of being 'too fat'?

The first and most obvious issue is the sheer prejudice. If they had applied this prejudice based on any other factor, they'd be sued like crazy. They can't say, "Well you're Race X," or "Well you're gay," but they can say, "Well you're fat."

The obesity is nothing more than an 'increased risk factor' -- but there are many, many 'genetic markers' which qualify as risk factors and have nothing to do with body size; discrimination of any one of which would be arbitrary and biased.

The second issue is the breach of faith. This woman has a time limit because of her age and adoption policy. She has worked for three years doing everything they asked of her so she could qualify to adopt a child that needed a home. And not until the moment they were supposed to clear her for it, finally, do they mention, "Oh yeah, and you have to lose over 100 lbs."

As if this couldn't have come up three years ago, so she would have had this time to work toward that! (Not that it's any guarantee it'd work.) This point alone has several problems:

The first problem is the arbitrary application of their prejudice against her weight until the last minute.

The second problem is that the demand is so big that she'll likely age-out of the application process before she CAN do it, short of some horrible, health-destroying attempt to fill that spot in her soul that desperately wants a child. (I can just see some desperate infertile woman becoming a cocaine addict to lose enough weight fast enough to qualify for the child. Yeah, that'll help...)

The third problem is the frankly ludicrous and injust assumption that she, and by proxy anybody, can simply lose that weight. "Eat less and exercise more!," the religious mantra of Fatzism goes. The fact that some people do NOT lose weight despite that, especially with a condition that probably caused the gain in the first place, or that it may take incredibly long periods of time to do so, and that different bodies are simply, well, different, is completely ignored.

How come the diet industry's making well over 50 BILLION dollars a year, if all people have to do is eat healthy and/or eat less and exercise more?

And as one commenter noted, what if she regained the weight?
What, would they repossess the child??

Thanks to BigFatBlog for alerting me to this.


Sara said...

I really didn't like reading about this - there's so much wrong with this story it's not even funny. The way they waited till the last minute to say that they wanted her to lose a certain amount of weight...and just as bad is the inherent 'age discrimination' as well.

I'm starting to get the feeling that anyone who's even a little bit 'fat' (and that definition seems rather arbitrary to me) is being discriminated against, ostracized and shut out of so many things. I think this is truly awful.

You know - I have a hearing impairment, and wear two hearing aids. Why is it that there are offers of all kinds of modifications in the workplace and at school - but no one was saying, "All you have to do is get better hearing aids". ?

I am not saying that 'fat' is a disability (though it could be in certain circumstances), but what I'm seeing is that there seems to be a policy of exclusion if for some reason a person is on the chubby side. The truly terrible thing about this is that there are so many potential reasons for that extra weight that have nothing to do with 'well just eat right and exercise'.

Hmmph - sounds like the new way to exlude people is to engage in something that's starting to look a whole lot like 'fat-ism' - akin to racism or what have you.


Anonymous said...

It has been proven that exposing children to cigarette smoke DRAMATICALLY increases the incidence of childhood asthma.

We're still allowing smokers to raise children.
And drug addicts.
And people of violent temperment.

All of those things are liable to kill a child QUICKLY.

How is it that fat is the worst thing possible in a parent?

This makes me crazy.
I think we need a non-fat-phobic president. Check out Livin la Vida Lowcarb today.


Suzique said...

So if I went on a starvation diet and lost vast amounts of weight quickly, damaged my heart and other organs and was in much worse health than before I lost weight, I'd make a better mother? Hmmm...what's wrong with this picture. Obesity is the last acceptable prejudice and people jump on it with a vengeance. And it just pisses me off. {And one of these days I'll learn to really express an opinion :-) }

Marshmallow said...

I was horrified and became angry reading about this. Like sara said, there's just so many things wrong about the way Kylie's case was handled - the way that they withheld the You Must Be X Lbs To Adopt This Child up until the last minute is just... just... NASTY.

Fat is the last acceptable prejudice, with all of the hype around this 'obesity epidemic', its being milked for all its worth. Grrr.

Anonymous said...

Two thirds of the US population is overweight? Let's vote 'em out.

Niki said...

This made me cry :(
I don't even know what to say. It's just terrible.

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