Stereotypes and prejudices

There aren’t many things that make my blood boil, but any kind of prejudice or stereotype will.  Especially when it’s indirectly targeted at me.

I have been absent from my posting for a little bit due to the crazy busy (but wonderful) holidays and wrapping up my baccalaureate degree in Public Health with a focus of Education and Promotion.  But I need to say something important right now.

I’m in a writing intensive course where we are to write a lengthy paper on a topic relating a health disparity.  Naturally, I chose “Organ transplantation among socially vulnerable adults.” A peer commented on my topic, and he mentioned alcoholism and drug abuse-inflicted liver transplants and ended his piece by saying, “I personally don’t agree there is a large enough disparity, only because many of these people’s conditions are self inflicted.”

First of all, self-inflicted or not, you still treat a patient.  If you were a doctor and someone came into your emergency room after trying to commit suicide, would you save them?  Of course you would.  I understand the limited number of livers available makes this a little bit more of an ethical question, and I will digress for a moment to say UNOS (United Network for Organ Sharing) and transplant centers have extremely stringent rules for listing an alcoholic for a transplant.  If you are an alcoholic and need a liver, you wouldn’t even make the waiting list until they were sure you were sober with a low chance of returning to old ways.

It is very hurtful when someone holds a prejudice towards you or one of your kind – your race, your health status, your financial situation, whatever it may be.  Our instructor in this course has specifically asked to know about anything being said by our peers that is “uncomfortable” to us, so I wrote her an email to say I was more than uncomfortable.  I am just posting this so that all of you know that people dying of liver failure waiting on organs are not a bunch of alcoholics.  The majority (90%) of us have, or had, diseases that we in no way, shape, or form, have/had given to ourselves.

I’m extremely uncomfortable with [my peer's] reply to my paper topic idea, health disparities affecting access to liver transplants. He ended his post by saying, “I personally don’t agree there is a large enough disparity, only because many of these people’s conditions are self inflicted,” referring to drug and alcohol abuse.
This is a huge myth. I became sick with an autoimmune liver disease at age 5. I was not an alcoholic; my body simply attacked itself. I’ve done research on indications of liver transplantation, and alcoholism/drug abuse account for an extremely relatively small proportion of all transplants. When I was a teenager (before my transplant in 2010 at age 23), I had an emergency room nurse flippantly say, “Why do you have liver disease? You must have been an alcoholic for years!” I was heartbroken as it was the first time if had experienced that prejudice. Not one ounce of alcohol had touched my diseased liver. Ever.

Maybe I’m overreacting, but I am hurt by my peer, a student in the advanced stages of a health degree, no less, being condescending toward patients with liver disease.
I tried to politely respond and tell him the truth so that he could learn from this experience. I hope we all learn something from this. Preconceived stereotypes are extremely hurtful, and we must be extremely cautious never to have them with our patients/clients.
Maybe you don’t believe this myth about liver transplant patients but you think all people with diabetes gave it to themselves by eating junk food, all the people in that neighborhood are drug addicts, or even that another race is just a little less “worthy” than yours.  Well, I would like to firmly propose that no one should say anything negative about anyone unless they have done extensive research and know it to be 100% true, 100% of the time.  Which pretty much would eliminate any stereotypes because none of them meet those criteria.  And if you can somehow outsmart me and find something that meet those criteria, and want to voice your prejudice, don’t.

2 thoughts on “Stereotypes and prejudices

  1. There is a stereotype by many about liver disease. My husband was diagnosed several years ago to our surprise with a genetic disorder called hemochromatosis. If untreated, it can cause iron deposits in major organs. The results of this disease caused my husband to have cirrhosis of the liver. There were many who would question whether my husband was someone who drank alot of alcohol. This would be sometimes upsetting because I knew it was not a valid reason for his liver complications. After, a few times explaining, the reason for his liver complications, I chose to deliver his story in a different manner by promoting awareness of his disease while explaining his situation and how he was fortunate enough to survive by having an organ transplant by a donor. It would aid more individuals in possibly preventing the same situation and promote awareness of diseases that affect the liver. I also promote signing up to be an organ donor while explaining the story. My son has PSC and AIH, this is the similar process I utilize when explaining my son’s diseases and promote awareness of liver disease.

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