Thursday, August 16, 2007

A Kind of Sophie’s Choice

For the past several weeks, fat activists have been following the story of Gary Stocklaufer, a Kansas City man who was denied the right to adopt his cousin’s baby boy, who had been living in the Stocklaufer home practically since birth, because Mr. Stocklaufer weighs 500 lbs. He responded to this clear-cut case of fat discrimination by filing an appeal on that basis. Now, doctors at Renaissance Hospital in Dallas who heard about this story have offered Mr. Stocklaufer weight loss surgery free of charge and he has accepted. Although there is no guarantee that he and his wife will get the baby back if he undergoes this procedure, he’s doing it anyway in the hope of bettering his chances.

Increasing evidence shows that bariatric surgery is even more dangerous than originally thought and it has always been regarded as a very high-risk procedure. Even when it doesn’t result in death on the table or immediate side effects, it’s not uncommon for people who have had this operation to develop serious medical problems down the line, some of which can only be repaired with additional surgery, some of which kill the patient. Many people of all sizes regard weight loss surgery as barbaric.

So in essence, Stocklaufer has agreed to having his body mutilated in an effort to regain his right to function as a parent – a kind of Sophie’s Choice.

The ironic twist in this sad, cruel story is that the villains here are well-intentioned. I think it’s important to make a distinction between fat hate and fat ignorance, especially since the latter can be more readily changed. The judge denied the adoption because he genuinely believes that Stocklaufer could drop dead at any moment due to his size and is therefore an unsuitable candidate for adoption. The fact that this same judge approved Stocklaufer’s adoption of another young son several years ago, even though his weight then was the same as it is now, demonstrates the ever-increasing reach of the fact-flawed fat hysteria propaganda machine. The doctors at Renaissance Hospital truly believe in the efficacy of weight loss surgery. They don’t think they’re butchering him, they think they’re doing him a great favor – particularly since the surgery usually costs around $100,000.

Some of the other fat blogs (I include myself in this category even though I’m not all-fat-all-the-time) have already reported this story and are understandably appalled by this Sophie’s Choice. One writer said he could not understand or empathize with Stocklaufer’s decision; another said she was rushing him information on the dangers of weight loss surgery, which frankly gave me the same creepy feeling as when anti-abortion activists foist pictures of fetuses on women as they arrive at women’s health centers.

An FA blog called The Rotund recently made me aware of a wonderful term: body autonomy, which means “my body, my choices; your body, your choices.” This should be a golden rule for any issue that involves an individual’s physical well being and integrity. I trust that Mr. Stocklaufer is making an informed decision. Whether or not I agree with it, or it’s in keeping with the prevailing fat acceptance doctrines, is beside the point. His body, his choice.

This terrible situation is a sobering reminder that there is nothing more important for the FA movement to do than continue to battle the fat hysteria propaganda machine and try to get the real fat facts through to the general public, which incorrectly believes that fat per se is a death sentence. We must also make a point of learning how to understand and empathize with fat people who make counter fat revolution choices, as well as those with strong anti-fat perspectives – if only to deal with them more effectively. As the saying goes, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”

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