Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Peanuts, Rights and Entitlement

Where I work, "entitlement" is a loaded word.  It's used to describe the state of mind an addict is in, the state that justifies the abdication of responsibility and reason that partaking in one's addiction permits.  There's a lot more to addiction than just that, of course.

But now there's a news item that's really caught my eye.  It would appear that in order to attend school, this child with a life-threatening peanut allergy is so susceptible to the effects of the otherwise benign tuber that everyone around her has to significantly alter his/her habits.

Whatever state (or commonwealth, don't jump all over me from Kentucky or Virginia) you live in, every child has the right to attend school.  That's established.  So this little lady, bless her, is guaranteed a certain minimum of education which the state will cover from tax coffers.  As a living, breathing person she is entitled to certain rights that come with every beat of her heart.

But now let's pause a moment to consider all the other kids in the school.  They have a right to attend school.  They know that a certain range of behavior and activity is expected while at school.  But now here's this one kid whose health issues are so severe, all - "all" is a wooly term not clearly defined in this case, I can't make out whether it's all the classmates in just the child's classroom, or the entire school - the other kids have to step up to a higher level of hygiene.

Let's back  up a tiny bit.  I'm of the opinion that a little dirt is good for you.  Polio, for instance, didn't become a serious health threat until people started undertaking serious hygiene.  When people were dirtier, you'd get exposed to little doses of polio as a child, and your body's immune system would develop a resistance and learn how to fight it off.  There were no adult cases of polio.  Then when everyone started washing their hands before every meal, after every trip to the loo, right after waking and whatever else, a person might not get exposed to polio at all - until s/he got a big ol' faceful from someone who was incubating.  Boom, you've got polio.  No built-up resistance.

I read somewhere, years ago, that Japan has one of the highest rates of allergies in the world, and the writer speculated that Japan's mania for sterile packaging and cleanliness was to blame.  Having never been exposed to irritants, their immune systems go berserk when presented with anything new.  I don't know for certain whether that's entirely correct, but it got a fact or three right: Japan does love its well-protected products.

So a little dirt now and then keeps your immune system on its toes, and yet also relaxed.  Your body has an idea of when to not worry about things.  It was a news item not too long ago that even hypersensitive people could reduce their intolerance for peanuts, alleviating a lot of unnecessary anxiety.  It's not uncommon to see a little line at the end of the ingredients list on so many things, "Packed in a facility that also processes peanuts, tree nuts and milk," or something similar.
This Product May Contain Nuts

So there's a viable treatment that can sharply reduce the child's sensitivity.  Good.  Now, instead of disrupting the lives of dozens, maybe hundreds of children who aren't otherwise affected by this one child's allergy, how about the child herself change her own habits, and not only not deleteriously affect the education of her classmates, but also improve her own quality of life?  Isn't that the smarter way to do things?

At the beginning, following the law of the land the Florida school system where she is enrolled was backing her right to attend school, and well they should.  And the parents of those other children were picketing the school, demanding that the allergic child withdraw from school, so as to not have their own children affected by someone else's allergy.  Again I say, good.  That's reasonable.

We're touching on entitled rights.  You have the right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness.  I like that phrase, "pursuit."  Nothing in there about being guaranteed happiness.  You have the right to an education.  You have the right to personal security, knowing that your health, welfare and comfort shall not be unlawfully abridged by anyone, ever.  (There is such a thing as lawfully abridged - that's corporal punishment, or the death penalty)  But what about when someone else's health and comfort infringe on your health and comfort?  When it's one-on-one, you could reasonably expect to come to some sort of compromise.  But now, what about when it's the health and comfort of one - whose rights are custodially protected by a government agency (in this case, a school) infringing on the health and comfort of many, custodially protected by that same agency at the same time?  This comes close to being a special rights case, a case of some animals being more equal than others.  Were I the principal at the school where this case is an issue, I would probably be shopping around for a different job, something with fewer gray areas.  

Now the ban on nut products at the school has been eased, and kids won't have to mouthwash twice a day.  That's good, but I'm a little sorry too.  I was a janitor for a while at an elementary school, and I swear twice-a-day compulsory oral hygiene would've done a lot of good for some of the kids at that place.  But that's beside the point.

You do wonder where the mouthwashing idea came from.  Maybe I'm a little old-fashioned, but I don't recall much frenching going on when I was in third grade.

The school system is doing the right thing but there's a bit of wiggle room, too.  The Federal Disabilities Act is what requires they continue to provide service for the child, but there's usually a provision in there under the heading of "reasonable accommodation."  If the child's health is so shaky, and can be compromised by something as chaotic as a schoolroom environment, then the most reasonable accommodation would be for the child to be taught at home or in an otherwise controlled environment.

And those parents should look into the desensitization therapy immediately.  The kid will be healthier for it.

No comments:

Post a Comment