Saturday, October 25, 2014

Canada's Health Care System Reeks of Corruption

There are few things as sacred to Canadian identity as a universal and free health care system. Most Canadians would probably agree that it is socially mandatory to sing the praises of a our socialized health care. Criticism of this system is not just an awkward faux pas, it is downright treachery. It ranks right up there with deserting from the front line in time of war.

And yet, the truth is that our health care system is terribly messed up. We can't do anything about it either, because we refuse to see, or at least to admit, what is wrong with it. Anyone who opens their mouth in a naive effort to improve the system by acknowledging its faults is usually shunned within about 5 seconds flat.

So let's look at the sacred cow. Just how messed up is our system? Let me give you a very poignant example. My husband and I recently met up with a lovely couple who happen to be family friends. They are both Canadian doctors but work in the U.S. (by the way, that is not at all uncommon, which should tell us something). 

One of the doctors was describing the flaws of the American health care system, so I brought up the point that the Canadian health care system is not so hot either. I mentioned that my husband and I have both been waiting for months now for phone calls from different specialists to schedule first appointments. It is sadly true that Canadian citizens often wait for many months before they are seen by specialists. 

And it's not just adults. Children too have to wait ridiculously long times. One of my daughters had to wait for one whole year for her first appointment with a specialist doctor at the Children's Hospital. When she was unable to make that appointment due to illness, the appointment was rescheduled again for a full year later. She will be two years older before her problem is finally assessed and addressed!

So here is what happened next. As soon as I mentioned that we were waiting for specialists, the doctor replied "What kind of specialist do you need to see? If you can go to Toronto, I can have you seen even tomorrow." The doctor proceeded to explain that she could bump us to the front of the line due to the contacts that she and her husband have with other doctors, including specialists.  

Although the doctor was very nice and was certainly trying to be helpful, I was shocked. I was also very upset. Not at her, but at the health care system. At what this kind of quick response says about the state of our health care. 

Despite all the propaganda about how progressive our system is, it now resembles those of third world countries and dictatorial regimes. In the Communist system that I remember as a child, doctors used to be bribed under the table with lavish gifts. Canada is not far from that now. Our health care has gotten so bad that people survive through corruption.

The doctor didn't even bother to deny that such cronyism is commonplace. In fact, she openly admitted it. She told me that she regularly takes care of her extended family, who reside in Canada, by getting them fast care this way. She apparently sees this kind of corruption as natural, as an unavoidable part of the system. "Anyone who says this hasn't always happened is lying," she told me.

And she is right that it is commonplace. We have had other experiences with this kind of cronyism in the health care system. Although we have gotten benefits from it (we have gotten services from doctors because we knew other doctors who were their friends), I still feel angry about the injustice of a system where this kind of corrupt behaviour is now almost necessary. That is certainly NOT the "Canadian way", and it flies in the face of all the sweet lies that we have been spoon-fed from infancy.

The doctor might also be right about the other thing, that cronyism is natural and universal. Perhaps everyone prefers to provide services for their friends and family, and will bump such people to the front of the line whenever possible. But here's the problem with Canada: in a country where there is no private health care, we have no other line to stand in. We are all forced to stand in the same public line, so when some people get bumped ahead due to connections, everyone else gets bumped down.

If I lived in the U.S., I wouldn't care so much that some doctor prefers to service his or her family. So what? I would just go to another doctor who was more available, because I can shop for doctors there. Actually, fee-paying clients might speak more loudly than even family connections in the end - I wonder how many doctors would be so quick to prioritize their family and friends if they were depending on income from their patients, rather than from the state?

But here, I can't buy faster service on the market. The only way to speed up service (or sometimes, to get it at all) is through connections. People die while waiting for specialists here. People also die because they were seen by specialists far too late, when their illnesses had progressed beyond curable. Who wants to take that chance?

This is the real way that we have a multi-tiered health care system here in Canada. New immigrants and lower income persons are mostly out of luck because they lack the right connections. I used to be one of those people, and I feel their outrage. The middle class gets lucky some of the time, as has happened to us. But the upper crust (and that includes many doctors themselves) lives in a different world of fast and friendly service by friends and friends of friends. No wonder there is so little will among our leaders to change this system.

Margaret Wente has written about this problem in relation to her hip replacement. She is a well-known columnist for a national newspaper, and she herself got to jump the queue when getting treatment. In fact, she managed to get access to a novel treatment that was not even being offered at the time to most Canadians. Here is how she described it:
What I got was first-tier medicine in a multi-tier system. Access to first-tier medicine isn't about money. It's about knowing people who are willing to help you get in to see a specialist in days or weeks instead of months or years. I found shortcuts. I asked for favours. I used courtesy and charm, which seemed to help, and also tears. (Believe me, the tears were real.)
At first, I felt guilty. But I was in pain, and the pain was destroying my life. If I had relied on the system to take its languid course, I would probably be in a wheelchair right now, still waiting for a consultation with a specialist who would probably recommend a type of surgery that is not as good for me as what I got.

So for all those Canadians who are wondering how to get faster service, here is the secret: being friends with a doctor, or having a doctor in the family, can literally save your life. Not because of what they can do, but because of whom they might know.

So what will I do about it in my personal life? I am undecided. We have taken advantage of connections in the past, and frankly, we might do so again in the future. Although I strongly prefer a just system, in Canada playing fair might mean ending up dead. That is the sad truth. How is that for an ethical Catch 22?

Photo: salimfadhley via photopin cc

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Apple and Facebook are putting their eggs in the wrong freezer

Apple and Facebook are on the cutting edge all right, cutting the "wo" right off the word "woman." In their latest bid for coolness, they will apparently fund up to $20,000 for their female employees to freeze their eggs, so that these employees can choose to delay motherhood while they climb up the corporate ladder.

There are so many things wrong with this policy, how to begin? Let me count the ways that this supposedly generous move actually slaps women on the face.

First of all, here comes yet another pressure to conform and perform. It's kind of like when the Blackberry was first introduced to employees at my law firm. At first it seemed like a great perk - wow, we get to have this cool gadget and take it home to play! But soon that wireless handheld becomes a chain around your neck, as you realize that you are no longer safely out of reach even in the washroom of your own house.

Now if I imagine that my law firm had been offering egg preservation...thank goodness they didn't! The message such a policy sends is this: if you get pregnant when young, then you can't be serious about your career. If you truly want to make partner then have your eggs preserved and keep up your pace like one of the guys. After all, what excuse can a female employee possibly have for not taking advantage of a free option to make herself into a man for a decade or more?

Here's another big problem with this apparently generous perk: it sells a lie. The lie is a false security based on the misconception that egg freezing works. The fact is that the success rate of egg thawing and subsequent pregnancy is not nearly as high as many young women employees might be led to believe. According to the NYU Fertility Centre, the success rate of using frozen eggs from young women (donors) is about 60%.  Egg donors tend to be college-aged women in their early 20s, so that success rate is at the highest end of the spectrum. Eggs retrieved from older women will have lower odds of successful pregnancy:
But what most employers don’t know is that even the "new and improved" flash freezing method–-known as vitrification–-has a 77 percent failure rate among women age 30, and in women age 40 the failure rate is 91 percent.
...The Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART) estimates that for a woman age 38, the chance of one frozen egg leading to a live birth is only 2-12 percent. 
(Miriam Zoll, MercatorNet)
And then there is this: the female employess will need to use (and pay for) IVF to use their frozen eggs. I don't think Facebook and Apple will be footing that bill for that procedure, but there will be no other way for the women to actually get pregnant with these frozen eggs. And by the time the female employees might want to use their frozen eggs, their increasingly older bodies will require possibly many unsuccessful cycles of IVF, accompanied by a terrible roller-coaster of hope and despair. Check out these dismal statistics on IVF success rates, as published by the British government (the Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority). These stats are based on the use of fresh eggs, so using thawed eggs will reduce these rates still further:
In 2010 (the year for which the most recent data is available) women having in vitro fertilisation (IVF) using fresh embryos created with their own fresh eggs, the percentage of cycles started that resulted in a live birth (national averages) was:
32.2% for women aged under 35
27.7% for women aged between 35–37
20.8% for women aged between 38–39
13.6% for women aged between 40–42
5.0% for women aged between 43–44
1.9% for women aged 45 and over
Please note that IVF and intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) success are very similar and as such are no longer presented seperately. The above results are for both IVF and ICSI together.
Given the sad numbers above, many of the female employees who were banking on having frozen egg babies late in life might need to hire a younger surrogate to increase their IVF success rate. So how does this equation sound now: Facebook/Apple pays $20,000 for another 10 years of workhorse employee, and 10 years later, the same employee will need to pony up for possibly many rounds of IVF and/or a surrogate, while undergoing the physical and emotional trauma that comes with all of that. And success is definitely NOT guaranteed!

But never fear. In another show of generosity, Facebook (not sure about Apple) apparently also covers the expenses of adopting a child. So if all else fails, these dedicated female employees who relinquished their own fertility for their employer can now at least adopt for free - a nice consolation prize.

Some women have come out to applaud Facebook and Apple for their forward thinking in offering women such a wonderful world of choices. This is a sad development. After all, this policy is like Facebook and Apple saying that they will pay for your abortion in case you get pregnant. Thanks for the "generosity", but how about helping me keep the baby instead?

If Facebook and Apple really mean to help their women employees have children, then how about enabling them to make the far more natural choice of having a family while still able to get pregnant naturally? In other words, how about increasing their rather pathetic maternity and parental leave benefits?

Many women in corporate America have 4 months of maternity leave or less - that includes high-level professionals, and it is true even at high tech companies. Facebook and Marissa Meyer's Yahoo both give women employees 4 months off for having a baby. Google gives 18-22 weeks.

Do these companies think they are being exceptionally generous? Apparently they do, but they are very wrong about that. By Canadian standards they lag far behind. Having had 3 children I shudder every time I think about the cruelty of making brand new mothers abandon their newborn infants, at three or four months barely out of the womb and completely dependent. How can any civilized and prosperous country do that to their young families?

Here in Canada, I have a one-year paid maternity leave by law. Employers have adjusted to this legal requirement and life has gone on! My husband (who works for the federal government) also took a whole 9 months of paid parental leave from his job after the birth of our third child.

Along with increased parental leave, there are so many other far more important priorities for women in the workplace. We need positive options that recognize and respect our womanhood, which includes the fact that we have babies. Men, they are your children too. It is in everyone's best interests that your children remain bonded with and raised by us, not by some childcare "professionals" who can never really replace us.

Enough of the faux improvements, it is time to get on with the real stuff. Develop a new workplace model that is based on the needs of women rather than on the traditional career trajectory and workplace needs and habits of men, and you will truly spark a revolution that needs to happen. Give us off-ramps and on-ramps. Increase our flexible hours and part time options, give us work from home options, give us freedom to arrange our lives to include our children's needs.

And as for your cheap $20,000 buy-out of my fertility, thanks but no thanks.

Photo: treyevan via photopin cc

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Where have all the women bloggers gone?

It has been over a month since I last posted on this blog. And as it turns out, I am not the only woman blogger who has vanished from the Internet lately. A friend sent along this article describing the phenomenon of AWOL conservative women bloggers, and sharing three female blogger perspectives on this question: why do we tend to abandon our blogs for longer stretches of time than our male counterparts?

The answers of these female bloggers are all exactly on target and I can relate to all of them.

For myself, now that the school year has started, I find that I have very little time to spare for sitting down at the computer. My children are doing various activities so we spend a lot of time commuting, and on days when we are home, we are following our homeschooling curriculum. And of course, there are many things to do in the evenings as well, everything from preparing lunches for days out to putting away summer clothes and outgrown clothes and replacing them with fall and winter stuff. Not to mention three sick children not sleeping well at night. Blogging just isn't a high priority anymore now that I have so many more urgent matters on my plate.

I truly enjoyed being able to blog and to write over the summer, but I am surprised at how little I miss it right now. Everything has its season, as Ecclesiastes so beautifully said, putting our lives into proper perspective. I accept that, and I am happy with the new season that I am in. When I get a chance to write or to blog, I relish it. However, I also enjoy my main (and consuming) work at the moment, which is the task of growing and shaping the wings of our little ones, so that they can take flight one day.

All this to say, this blog is not dead but dormant. Expect irregular posts, because a mother's world keeps changing with the seasons.

Photo: Dakiny via photopin cc

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Homeschooling strategies for coping with toddlers and babies

One of the most common homeschooling questions is surely this: what to do with the babies and toddlers while trying to teach the older children something school-related?

This is a very real problem, and unfortunately there are no perfect solutions. In the world of outside education, schools with multi-age classrooms separate out children under three, but homeschooling moms have to function under conditions of war.

When I began homeschooling last year, my children were 1.5, 3 and 4 years old. My oldest was absorbing the lessons but the other two were having a field day in my home classroom, pulling materials off shelves, drawing on any surface they could get close to, dumping cheerios underfoot and generally leaving paths of destruction behind them, all within 10 minutes of starting my lesson.

What to do? For me, the start of the solution was to change my mindset. I had to accept that homeschooling was different from the controlled environment of a classroom, and that these issues were part of the package. I relaxed about the messes and got more flexible about how I fitted in lessons for my oldest. For a while I abandoned out home classroom completely, and headed back to the kitchen table where it was easier to manage everyone.

Recently this topic came up again in one of my homeschooling Facebook groups, and a good discussion ensued. So I want to share those collected strategies here, for all moms who might be searching for a solution online. Hopefully some of these tips can work for you:

  • Try to get the younger children to "work" alongside the older children. This is important, although it won't buy you too much free time. It adds your younger children to the home school so that they feel included, and gets them learning. They may also surprise you with their early abilities. Even a 2-year-old can try cutting with scissors, coloring and scribbling, doing easy pouring and transfer activities, first puzzles, learning to open and close buttons, sticking stickers onto paper, matching objects and pictures, playing with play dough, stringing beads onto lace, etc.

  • Try to get the oldest kids to learn as independently as possible. For me, this has been absolutely key. The more independent your older ones get, the more hair stays on your head. My daughter is now 5 and she is able to work on her own for at least a part of many assignments. Also, for greater independence it might help to choose a curriculum with teaching CDs (ex. Math-U-See) or online classes.

  • Use nap times. Many moms use nap times to teach their older children. I do this too (though sometimes I wish I could have a nap myself!).

  • Have older children babysit younger siblings. One mom wrote that once she had five children doing official school, she realized that she couldn't teach more than three at the same time, so the others would have to wait and do something independent. She suggested that an older child could make lunch, bake, colour, or go to the back yard, basement or kitchen for a break with the younger children. "Flexibility is key," she said, and that is homeschooling in a nutshell.

  • Use staggered learning. Break up lessons throughout the day to make it easier for the younger ones to endure the wait. Also, try lessons in the evenings, after the babies and toddlers are in bed.

  • Other ideas:

    • One mom recommended the book A Mother's Rule of Life.
    • Have lots of snacks available.
    • Prepare lots of colouring pages related to the day's lessons.
    • Place Lego beside the older children - perhaps so that they can be kept busy while waiting their turn.
    • Playpens. These work well for some mothers, but not for all. Some children climb out of playpens early, while others (like mine) could never stand being confined in playpens. If it works for you, great!
    • High chairs. If your child can be strapped in a high chair or other seating device and quietly sit there for some time, great.
    • Play centres and other toys for young children. Maybe these will work better if they are only brought out at homeschooling time, so they retain some novelty.

Have other suggestions? Help other moms who might visit, and add you own tips in comments. 

Photo: Opedagogen via photopin cc

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Are Baby Gammy's parents really that unusual?

My thoughts on Baby Gammy, over at LifeSite News:
There is an uproar Down Under over an anonymous Australian couple that commissioned twins from a surrogate in Thailand, then reneged and brought home only a daughter after the other twin, a boy named Gammy, was born with Down syndrome. Pattaramon Chanbua, the couple’s surrogate, was left to care for the now six-month-old Gammy, who also has a congenital hole in his heart and will require expensive surgeries.
The Australian Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has rightly called Chanbua “an absolute hero” and “a saint.” When she was seven months pregnant, the commissioning couple apparently asked her to abort Gammy because of his Down syndrome, and she refused because she considered abortion against her Buddhist beliefs. When he was born and rejected again by his parents, she chose to love him and become his mother. Despite her precarious financial situation, she took time off her work to care for him. That is true love, charity and largeness of spirit.
...Read more.
Also, in a shocking development, Gammy's Australian father has turned out to be a convicted pedophile. He is 56 years old, and in the 1990s he was convicted of 22 child sex-abuse charges involving girls as young as 7 years old. He spent time in jail following his convictions.

So now, this pedophile has taken home a little baby girl. In a further twist, this little girl is not the daughter of his wife. She was "made" in the lab with his sperm and the ovum of a poor Thai woman, a so-called egg "donor" (who got paid of course). Has this pedophile just made a new and defenceless victim for himself?

His adult biological son has come out in the media to say that his father is a changed man. But how would he know? His father didn't prey on boys to begin with. This poor little girl will be the guinea pig for that theory.

Personally, I strongly suspect that this 56-year-old man has very intentionally created this little girl as a plaything for himself. Poor, poor child. Again, this is the world that reproductive technologies have created for us.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Ethics should colour doctor's decisions

My article in the Hamilton Spectator:
In a recent column, Martin Regg Cohn throws spears in all directions as he attacks doctors who refuse to prescribe or refer for birth control pills. Cohn wants the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, which is reviewing its human rights guidelines, to clamp down on these doctors and force them to participate in treatments they consider unethical or risk losing their jobs.
First off, Cohn rejects the possibility that there could be sound medical judgment behind the decision not to prescribe birth control pills. He is wrong; birth control is not Tylenol. Popular pain relievers are very safe when used according to directions; their main danger comes from accidental overdose.
...Read more. 
Photo: salimfadhley via photopin cc

Monday, August 4, 2014

Why I support Israel

The fact is, many Jewish people wouldn't even like me. Having worked in New York City alongside many politically liberal Jews, I felt like a total outcast at times with my socially conservative values. The word “Republican” was more like a curse word than a political party among some of these Jewish lawyers. It was entertaining to watch the shock on their faces when my photo appeared on the front page of the New York Times City section one morning, with me holding a rifle at a NYC shooting range. What a scandal.

So I know very well that the affection does not always flow both ways, and it’s not for cuddles and hugs that I support Israel in the present conflict against Hamas. In fact, I don’t like all that much about Israel. Their politics is liberal on many of the moral issues that I care deeply about, and my opinions would not be very welcome there. 

Being attacked gives you the right to fight

If Israel were just targeting innocent civilians unnecessarily, it would be wrong. But Hamas are hiding their rockets and their fighters among civilians, they are using neutral places like schools and places of refuge to hide their rockets and launch attacks. What alternative is there for Israel then? On principle, if someone attacks you, you have a right to defend yourself.

I've seen it suggested that Israel should be more precise in the use of their technology. Well, technology isn't perfect yet, although Israel certainly has the top of the line. As in the case of abortion, the direct and intentional murder of innocents cannot be justified, not even as a "lesser evil for greater good", but where such death is a side-effect of a legitimate self-defence, that is a different story.

The deaths of those innocent Palestinians who have been caught in the crossfire fall on the shoulders of Hamas, not Israel. In its ideological frenzy, Hamas willingly uses its own population as sitting ducks and as human shields for their weaponry. If anything is a violation of the ethical norms of civilized warfare, this is surely it. Hamas forces Israel to fight back through a line of civilian bodies, because it loves the worldwide propaganda this creates against Israel. Hamas is indirectly killing its own people to help it score points in the media. 

It's a brilliant tactic by Hamas, as shown by its incredible effectiveness. The world media is squarely focused on the suffering of the Palestinian people, and many regular people get the impression that Israel is wreaking carnage without justification. If all you look at is the heart-wrenching photos of bloody Palestinian children and civilians, which dominate mainstream media, then the Hamas propaganda machine starts to seem especially smart but evil.

While tactics and photos might sway public opinion, they don't actually move the truth to your side. The principle of legitimate self-defence stays the same, and on that principle Israel deserves support.

Democracy versus dictatorship

Let's not forget that Israel is a modern democracy. Democracies often have a hard time agreeing on anything, and waging war is a big deal for a democracy. There are certain checks and balances present when staunchly opposed opinions have to come together to agree on any major policy like that. So when a modern democracy launches into a war, especially a war of self-defence, I do believe that there should be a certain presumption of reasonableness in its favour, at least until proven otherwise.

On the other side of the conflict, we have a dictatorship run by terrorists. Doesn't that speak for itself? Hamas train teenagers to strap bombs onto their bodies, promise them virgins in heaven, and send them to blow up cafes and buses and other civilian hotspots. They have already launched over 3000 rockets with abandon, and the only reason they haven't been successful at mass murder is that they are technologically incapable of breaking through Israel's Iron Dome defence system. If they could, they surely would - and the body count ratios would change dramatically. Do these terrorists really deserve our sympathy?

Jews, not Arabs, are the world's outcasts

Finally, yet another reason why the Western world, and especially Europe, should be supporting Israel is this:

The Jewish people have suffered so much in the last hundred years that it staggers the mind. The hatred and viciousness that Europe unleashed against them 70 years ago is truly incomprehensible.

And I do mean Europe, not just Germany and not just the Nazis. So many more people were complicit, so many ordinary people, neighbours and colleagues and friends, people who never had any fingers pointed at them after the war ended. Anti-Semitism runs very deep in Europe, and it is still there to this very day. We should all be ashamed.

After what the Jews endured in World War II, much of the world agreed that they deserved their own land, free of harassment and hatred. Let's not forget that Israel was created with support from the United States, Britain and the nascent United Nations after the war, as a place of refuge for the raggedy remains of the nearly annihilated Jewish people.

I believe that it is still our duty, as the descendants of those who caused the Jewish people to suffer so terribly, to help them and support them. I am not aware of any actual anti-Semitism or participation in the Nazi genocide by my own Czech ancestors, but anti-Semitism seems to have been widespread among the Czech people before the Second World War, so we contributed to the climate of discrimination which Hitler used for his evil purpose. There were concentration camps throughout Europe, even in Czechoslovakia.

(Note: Today, the Czech Republic scores fairly low on the anti-Semitism scale, as measured by a recent major survey by the Anti-Defamation League. The CR came in at 13%, and many other European countries measured much higher).

The genocide of World War II happened recently enough that some of the survivors of concentration camps are still alive, and many Jewish families still bear the pain of having lost almost their entire extended families. It is not ancient history. It is way too early to wipe the slate clean and say that what previous generations did does not concern us.

So that sums it up for me, and this is why I support Israel in the present conflict, in the right to defend itself, and in the right to exist.