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Editorial: Protecting Canada's Health Care System

Issues affecting the health and well-being of persons who are blind, partially sighted and Deaf-blind go far beyond our respective eye conditions, prevention of blindness and adapting to vision loss. They also include concerns about Canada's health care system, current debates over health issues, access to readily available information about one's own health, gaining needed personal supports, and an examination of how we are viewed by the wider community--perceptions that often affect the way we see ourselves. In this issue of the Canadian Blind Monitor, we look at all of these questions, and many more issues.

After the CCF won the 1944 Saskatchewan provincial election, one of Premier Tommy Douglas's first acts was to create hospitalization for every man, woman and child in the province for $5 per person or $15 a year. Saskatchewan's reforms were implemented across Canada's other nine provinces in 1957.

Provincial health plans, funded at 50 percent by the federal government and 50 percent from provincial funds, became firmly entrenched in the 1960s. In 1984, the federal government further codified the principles of Medicare through the introduction of the Canada Health Act, responding to a push by some provinces and physicians to impose user fees on patients. Medicare's codified principles are universality, accessibility, comprehensiveness, portability (from one province to another) and public administration.

Our publicly funded Medicare system has been called one of the defining aspects of Canadian society, yet today there remains vast regional differences in access and availability from province to province, and between urban and rural areas. Privatizing parts of this system is already leading to a two-tier system of medical care in Canada. Protecting and expanding our publicly funded Medicare system is of prime concern to most Canadians. It is also a clear disability rights issue!

The 1991 Health and Activity Limitations post-census survey (HALS) by Statistics Canada reported that 635,000 Canadians identified themselves as having a "seeing disability". The study defined an individual as having a seeing disability if he or she had difficulty seeing ordinary newsprint with corrective lenses if usually worn, or had difficulty seeing the face of someone four metres (12 feet) across a room with corrective lenses if usually worn. Of the 635,000 Canadians with a seeing disability, 511,000 were adults living in households, 94,000 were adults living in institutions, and 30,000 of these were children aged 14 years and under. These numbers are on the rise, and will continue to increase as the "baby boomer" population ages. This will place additional pressure on Canada's health care system.

The issue of euthanasia remains extremely controversial throughout Canada. Consider the words that are often used--"mercy killing". Was Tracey Latimer consulted before she was mercifully murdered by her father?

Robert Latimer was tried and convicted of committing second degree murder, even though his actions were premeditated. Mr. Latimer's lawyers argued that he killed his daughter because she suffered daily, and he saw ending her life as the only option. However, the Crown presented evidence to show that Tracey Latimer did not suffer to the extent that her father claimed she did. In fact, the court heard many accounts of Tracey enjoying a quality of life that included attending school, spending time with her grandmother, listening to music and being rocked by her mother.

No one would deny that Tracey Latimer had many care needs, or that the social service system failed her, but the question here is: Who has the right to decide what constitutes "quality of life", how can it be measured, and who has the right to take it away? Society must stop making these kinds of assumptions and arbitrary decisions on other peoples behalf.

Those favouring genetic modification, or tampering as it can also be called, argue that they will some day be able to eradicate certain disabling conditions. But what many in the scientific community fear is that the new genetic work will lead to the eradication of people with disabilities, not necessarily disabling conditions. In other words, genetic testing may become a slippery slope to insanity and tyranny of the worst sort.

All human life must be considered worthy. Americans and Canadians are not worth more than Iraqis or Afghans. Bill Gates' children are not worth more than the children living in the worst conditions in the Third World. So any technology or philosophy that cheapens the life of a disabled child or disabled person must be fought vigorously.

And while we are on the subject of quality of life

Despite years of public education, blindness is still one of the most feared of all disabilities. Many people still question how we cope and go about our daily lives. Each of us has his/her own story, particular eye condition and unique life situation. We have included a number of "first person" stories in this issue to show some of this diversity.

We hope you will find the range of issues and stories covered in this edition of the CBM interesting, informative and thought-provoking.

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