The male birth control pill. We hear about it all the time, but it never seems any closer to becoming a reality. A recent Google News search cropped up almost a million results. Headlines like A Male Birth Control Option Promises to Be Available Within 5 YearsMale contraceptive pill ‘a step closer’ to hitting market and Birth Control for Men-It’s Loooooong Overdue flood the page.

I get it, the logic behind a male birth control pill makes sense. The contraceptive burden shouldn’t fall entirely on women, men should have a more substantial stake in family planning, the more available and accessible options, the better. Makes sense.

In a perfect world, where gender-parity means more than Trudeau’s gender-balanced cabinet — a largely symbolic move that attracted more applause than it did actually address gender inequity in Parliament — male contraception might even translate into fewer unplanned pregnancies, safer sex, you name it.

But the problem with the conversation around contraception for men is mostly frustrating: it ignores the power imbalances and patriarchal structures that make legislation and policy around women’s health so important in the first place.

Something like 99 per cent of women in the United States have used birth control methods at least once in their lives. And guess what, Canada doesn’t even record statistics on women’s contraception usage. As recently as 2013, Canadian researchers had to use American statistics to estimate trends in contraception.

Don’t let our lack of statistical analysis fool you, Canadian women are certainly still accessing contraception. Last year alone, the sexual health clinic at the Middlesex-London Health Unit provided nearly 28 000 low-cost contraceptives, including upwards of 500 doses of emergency contraception. But despite widespread usage, provincial health plans still do not fully cover birth control, because Canada remains the only country in the world with healthcare that does not cover pharmaceuticals. Most women access birth control through supplemental health insurance, provided by employers.

A recent Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) study found that most Canadian employers do not routinely cover the cost of contraception. Insurance coverage varies widely, and while some plans are comprehensive, there is no national standard for contraception coverage.

The Public Service Health Care Plan provides coverage for federal employees through Sun Life, but only covers oral contraceptives. The same plan provides up to $500 in reimbursement for erectile dysfunction drugs. Several plans omit birth control coverage altogether, including the supplemental insurance for employees of Save on Foods. For women without supplemental health coverage, especially women with precarious immigration status, the cost of unsubsidized birth control can be preventative.

The male birth control pill won’t do much to change that.

Why? Aside from the obvious legislative and policy implications, the real reason is that financial obstacles don’t just exist on the demand side of the equation. Birth control methods are expensive to research, develop, and test through clinical trials. And Big Pharma, an industry that spends over $635 million lobbying the United States Congress (which exceeds the amount spent by Wall Street and the oil and gas industry combined), hasn’t developed a new contraceptive method for women in decades.

Most of the new birth control methods available, like the IUD, were developed outside of the commercial sector and eventually bought by Big Pharma companies, who spent their money on marketing. In other words, the companies with the resources and finances to invest significant sums in women’s health prefer to sit back and wait until something pops up on the market that they can buy to expand their portfolios.

This is all to say that when healthcare in Canada finally provides some sort of comprehensive pharmacare plan, when Big Pharma starts spending more on developing better, more effective, and safer birth control options for women, when the Federal government starts to fully cover birth control, when all hospitals and schools are required to provide women and girls with access to birth control, then maybe we can start worrying about a male option.

Until then, the male birth control pill seems like just another way to put on our blinders, shirk our responsibility to ensure women have access to contraception, and, like always, turn our attention towards men.

* Featured image: YouTube

Last week dealt a major blow to anti-vaxxers everywhere when Alberta’s David and Collet Stephan were convicted of failing to provide the necessaries of life to their 19 month old son Ezekiel. Ezekiel had bacterial meningitis but rather than take him to the emergency room, they treated his illness with naturopathic remedies. By the time the Stephans were forced to acknowledge that their remedies weren’t enough, it was too late.

On March 13, 2012 Ezekiel stopped breathing. He was rushed to the hospital, eventually ending up in Calgary where doctors discovered he had very little brain activity. The baby died a few days later.

During the trial Crown Prosecutor Lisa Weich said the case isn’t about love. It’s about the Stephans’ failure to provide medical attention.

“A reasonably prudent parent would have recognized, would have foreseen that Ezekiel was at risk of danger,” she said.

Like Ms. Weich, this article isn’t disputing that David and Collet Stephan loved their son. But it appears that it was more important for them to confirm their distrust of modern medicine and the healthcare system and they were willing to sacrifice their child to do it.

David Stephan may have loved his son, but he also had a vested interest in the naturopathic remedies being used to treat him. David’s father Anthony Stephan, co-founded Truehope Nutritional Support in 1996, a company that sells nutritional supplements that are supposed to help with various physical and mental illnesses. David Stephan is the company’s current vice president.

David and Collet are also anti vaxxers, which means that they don’t believe in vaccinating children against illness. David Stephan had even said he and his wife wouldn’t vaccinate their kids after hearing various stories – stories, not scientific studies – about vaccinations causing autism.

The symptoms of meningitis are fever, vomiting, a pale blotchy distinctive rash, an inability to stay awake, severe muscle pain, irritability, light sensitivity and a stiff neck. If untreated, it can cause brain damage, hearing loss, learning disabilities, and even death.

Though Ezekiel had been showing the symptoms for more than two weeks and a family friend said he should be brought to the hospital, his parents decided to treat him with hot peppers, garlic, onions, and horseradish. Garlic, onions, hot peppers and horseradish aren’t remedies for meningitis. They’re the basis of a tasty stir fry.

When Ezekiel got worse, Collet Stephan brought him to naturopath Tracy Tannis. By this point the boy was so stiff he couldn’t sit in his car seat and had to be brought to the naturopath’s office on a mattress in the car. Without even examining him, Tannis ordered her secretary to prepare a strong tincture of Echinacea which Collet then treated Ezekiel with.

Tracy Tannis is now under investigation by the College of Naturopathic Doctors of Alberta, an investigation sparked by her role in Ezekiel’s death.

Ezekiel’s parents were charged with failure to provide necessaries of life as per section 215 of the Canadian Criminal Code.

Section 215 states that a parent, guardian, or head of a family is under a legal duty to provide necessaries of life to a child under sixteen years old. If the person fails to do so “without lawful excuse” and that failure permanently endangers their health or their life, they risk a maximum five year prison term. Unlike other offenses which place the burden of proof on the prosecution, section 215 leaves it up to the accused. Once the prosecution proves the accused failed to provide necessaries of life, it’s up to the defense to prove the accused had a lawful excuse not to provide them.

It should go without saying that a distrust of modern medicine is not a lawful excuse. Drugs and medical practices go through a barrage of scientific tests before they ever touch a patient. They are also subjected to government regulation and any time anything proves to be harmful, the practice is ended or the product taken off the market.

There is no study conclusively proving that naturopathic remedies can cure fatal or disabling illnesses. Garlic, onions, and Echinacea were as likely to cure Ezekiel as good old fashioned prayer.

Many have argued that parents should have discretion over the care their child receives and that the Stephans’ conviction somehow takes away that discretion. The problem with this argument is that it denies that parental discretion as per Canadian law is not and has never been absolute. If it were there’d be no convictions for child abuse and parents would be under no obligation to feed and clothe their children if they decided their care didn’t require it.

Laws are always based on notions of reasonability according to what another reasonable person would have done in a similar situation. A reasonable person would have freaked when they saw that their baby was sick. A reasonable parent would have gone straight to the emergency room and demanded a licensed medical doctor take a look at their child.

Naturopathic remedies are fine to try on afflictions that aren’t fatal or crippling. You have a common cold? Feel free to eat a ton of garlic or feed it to your kid. You have a bruise? Rub it with chilies if you think it will help.

But if your child’s illness puts him at risk of dying or being permanently disabled, it’s time to put your pride and prejudices about modern medicine aside.

And if they’re more important to you than your kid’s life, you shouldn’t be parents.

Dear readers, originally I had a completely different rant, but internal circumstances prompted me to write this one, partly out of frustration. Also, a shout-out: Happy Belated Birthday to Irkar Beljaars! I would have been at your party if I was feeling better then I have been. I also should have been at the potluck party with Pappillon, and the Chanukah party at my parents’ house. Happy and healthy Chanukah to my Jewish readers.

Now, the rant.

I hate being sick!

I know, most people also don’t like it, but damn! Why must the “messy wet phase” be so god-awfully wet and messy? Why am I experiencing bad muscle and chest pains? Why does my jaw and arm hurt periodically whenever I’m going through a coughing fit? Why so many coughing fits!?

I was supposed to have a very full weekend of partying and drunken revelry, but instead I’ve been too sick to go out anywhere and I’ve been taking only some cold medication, which doesn’t seem to be working. I haven’t even been outside since Friday morning! It really sucks!

I must apologize to anybody I had made plans with over this past weekend. Illness is a bitch. Between the hacking, the coughing, the wheezing, the sneezing, the runny nose, the fevers, the nightmares and the explosive sinusitis, I don’t feel so good and I’m probably very contagious (and my throat hurts too).

I know that at the present moment, if there is a cure for the common cold, it’s been bought and shelved by greedy pharmaceutical companies, in order to sell their “Magic Elixirs.” They generate new viruses and variants thereof in order to sell more medications. They’ve been caught doing this many times. Corporations are above any country’s laws as long as they’re large enough to be multinationals. In many places, governments are mere puppets to the corporations.

Go ahead. Hang me for stating the obvious. Hang me for sedition. I’m no citizen because I failed the physical to join your military to fight giant insects. Sorry. Fever tangent to the bad movie playing in the background. I bet you can guess which movie that one is by my description.

Sorry if I’m all over the place today. I’m still kinda sick. I think I am recovering, though. Although right now I’m on a lot of cold medication. I already ranted about that here.

I was originally going to rant about the erosion of rights in the United States that seems to be currently going on, as freedom of speech the internet in America leads to being called, labeled and treated as a terrorist. I don’t believe that Wikileaks, for example, supports terrorism necessarily,   but I do believe that one should use their own judgment and decide for themselves based on the fare available. I know it can be difficult choosing which lies to believe, but if a website, or a newspaper, or a television channel reports something true, they should not really be penalized for it.

But what do I know?

Tomorrow morning I have a date with destiny. To be more specific I have an appointment with my dentist.

When I was eight or nine years old, the dentist I had at the time decided to pull three of my front teeth as they were all still baby teeth. My gums were (and still are) very strong, they just couldn’t let those last baby teeth go. The only problem I faced back then was the awful smile I had waiting for the adult teeth to grow in. I didn’t know at the time that I’d have to wait more than twenty-five years for that final tooth to break through my strong gums.

Twenty-five years is a long time, not being able to smile with assurance especially when it includes your teen years and twenties. I couldn’t really smile at the ladies or in a mirror for that matter and my confidence was fairly shot, but looking back it probably didn’t affect me all that much… must, kill, everyone!

Ironically, my dentist visit tomorrow will be to extract the same tooth I had removed in my childhood. That main tooth that was in my gums for so long is coming in sideways and pushing the other teeth out of sync, at least this time their will be a permanent bridge put in place. The total cost of this bridge work will cost more than $5700, not a penny of it will be paid for by my work insurance as they consider it to be cosmetic.

My case might seem a little extreme, but there are millions of other Canadians in similar situations who don’t have dental insurance. In fact, many Canadians go years without seeing a dentist simply because of the cost of a cleaning or filling. The only time most of the working poor goes for a checkup is when they are already in pain and even that might not persuade some people to go, which can be dangerous. It’s not that uncommon for someone to die as a result of abscessed teeth, but in this day and age it should be.

Canada has a world famous universal health care system, it’s not perfect but it’s better than abandoning people outside the hospital. Whether you’re rich or poor, our Medicare system provides the same coverage to everyone, why can’t it be the same for oral health? We can live without hair or with an ugly birthmark, but unless we want to live on a diet of applesauce we need our teeth.

Dentists Extract More Than Just Teeth

A universal health care system that includes dental care might not persuade the masses as a whole to go to the dentist twice a year. After all, some people are just plain terrified of the dentist, but at least the option would be there for those who want to take advantage of it. Just like medicine, the cost of dental care would go down and the (oral) health of average Canadians would go up which to me is the main objective.

As far as the quality of dental care goes, I’ve heard arguments from both sides of the dentists’ coin. One dentist says the quality of care would drop because dentists would have to put efficiency over care, he then used Britain’s reputation for rotten snaggleteeth as proof that universal dental care doesn’t work. I believe that it can work,   it’s their individual structure that doesn’t. The Japanese have a different system and they have damn good teeth.

The dentist that agreed with the need for a national dental care system is bang on when he said that part of the privilege of the profession is meeting the needs of society before meeting our own, meaning that to some dentists it’s all about money instead of the quality of care. I’ve been told several times by dentists, including the one that I’m currently seeing, that they don’t mind if some individuals don’t take good care of their teeth, the more cavities folks have, the more money they make… I won’t be seeing him after my treatment.

In my opinion, an oral hygienist should be looked upon more as a public servant than a car mechanic or someone else waiting to pounce on you as soon as there is a problem in your mouth.

Less then 50% of Canadians have dental insurance through work. Those that are insured can run into trouble with their insurance company for making a simple claim for a tooth extraction.   With dental technologies evolving, one small toothache can wind up costing thousands of dollars,   it’s clear we need a new way of thinking, what better way to change things than to literally bring a smile to everyone’s face. I myself will be smiling soon.

Hello folks.
I have an announcement.
I suffer from hypertension.

Not that kind of hypertension, the other one

This is caused by all the stresses I’ve been put through.   Some of it has been building for quite some time and most of it is caused by current stresses put upon me by those people   and events in my life that are too intense.   You should know who you are and if you don’t know, I’m not going to tell you here.

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is also caused by my type-A personality, as well as having far too much salt and serum cholesterol in my diet.   I believe there is a reason why the letter “A” was used.

I also have gout.

Gout is a very painful form of blood-borne arthritis which seems to attack large joints almost at random.   In most cases, it attacks men over age 50 in the big toe.   It’s been attacking me since before I could remember and usually in the ankles, but the worst attack was in the knee.

I already ranted about the hospital I was in and the treatment I got there.   As a result, I’m on medications, some of which drive up blood pressure as a side-effect.

I also consume far too much caffeine.   They call it “the silent killer.”   I’m told it can do a lot of permanent damage and then subside, or can keep doing damage until it kills you.

I’m not getting any younger.

The conspiracy theorist in me links it to the GBH fed to the cattle that produced the milk that I drank in elementary school.   I draw this conclusion in part because several of my male classmates also have become afflicted with the disease at what convention calls much too young.

It doesn’t help that it seems like everything is a struggle for me.   Even when I finally get the things I want, they are often somehow less than what everyone else in my circle has.   On top of that, I have a genetic pre-disposition to it.

Here is what one of the stressors had to say about the subject:

HP-MARTYR-SAUCE

Hypertension People (HP), like all others, must be cautious in avoiding “stress-projection.”   If an HP becomes a source of stress for a non-HP, it may reflect back onto said HP, making matters worse.   Hypertension is not a source of stress.   How one copes with imbalances in shared responsibility is a common cause of stress, often on both parties.

A ‘two-way concept’ such as this, if gone unacknowledged, can render the HP as an “emotional blackmailer” of non-HP’s.   As in, “Don’t yell at me—you know I have hypertension!”.   The non-HP in such a case is put through a ‘guilt-trip’ regardless of the complaint’s legitimacy, a new tension infused into a social dynamic.

In light of this, we must not appear to hide behind our respective illnesses in our shared responsibility with others.   If the nature of the illness itself is a genuine cause of stress for the other, then it may unfairly render said other into an impromptu care-giver.

Does this woman scare you? Lone Times Square Tea Party protester (photo Chris Zacchia)

She’s a lone protester we passed in Times Square the other week while we were in town. She didn’t look all that intimidating. She was wearing all the trappings of the Tea Party folk you see on the news, except there was no one in similar garb hanging around.

When we asked if we could take her picture, she gladly accepted, saying that no one had paid attention to her for hours. She was a little less excited when she found out we were Canadian. Maybe the fact that we have free universal healthcare (way more than what is being offered by the Obama plan) and didn’t have to go the dictatorship route to get it isn’t exactly in keeping with her narrative.

While she might not be all that intimidating, the specter of others like her rising up in November has some US democratic congress members wary of pushing through health care reform with a procedure called reconciliation. This comes after months of backpedaling and sapping the bill of anything that may offend insurance companies looking to preserve their bottom line and throwing in stuff that really has no business being there.

Now, finally, it looks like the Democrats may actually do it, or sort of do it and pass something that changes something in the world of healthcare. Unfortunately, the worry is starting to set in.

I normally don’t comment on US domestic matters, as I am a Canadian (foreign policy’s a different story), but this issue begs saying something. So, here’s some advice to the American Democratic Party from someone living in the industrialized world like you, but not in the only country that for some ridiculous reason doesn’t see the health of its citizens as an essential public service like the fire department is:

Just pass the damn thing, do what your opponents are accusing you of doing and “ram healthcare down everyone’s throats.” Better yet, strip it of all the concessions you made to the insurance companies first and then push it through. This will only work and not turn around and bite you in the ass if you give everyone free universal healthcare.

It’s not a dictatorship, it’s politicians who are supposed to pass laws and make rules doing their jobs by passing laws and making rules. You have the majority now, use it.

Don’t worry about losing elections over this. The people that are against it aren’t the ones who vote for you and they’re not the majority. They’re a minority, just like the lady in Times Square was compared to the rest of the people around her. In many cases, they are also the ones that could benefit from free healthcare the most, but they’re being led by an even smaller profit-driven minority

Imagine you clean the bill up and push the bill through. What will happen now when a poor person living in a “red state” and staunchly opposed to health care reform gets sick or has an accident? Now, instead of going broke to reattach their finger, that operation will be free for them.

Who do you think they’ll vote for now? Those who would have left them lose their life savings or the people who gave them a necessary operation for free? Who do you think their friends will vote for when they hear what happened?

All it takes is a little confidence to make the boldest move you could and bring your country close to where most of the rest of the world was over fifty years ago. And now, folks, you don’t really have a choice.

If you don’t do it, you’ll surely lose in November and this whole healthcare attempt and pretty much your whole administration will be more futile than that Tea Party lady in Times Square trying to convince a bunch of Canadian tourists that Obama is Hitler.

I’ve been asked to write this rant about my say in Hospital.   A little over a year ago, my right knee swelled up and ballooned out.   At first, it felt like a cramp that wouldn’t go away, but it got progressively more painful and my right knee also became very much warmer than my left, so after a week of this, when I couldn’t walk or even really move, I called an ambulance to take me to the hospital.

Because I had stairs, the EMS team tried to force me to bend my knee onto their stretchers, nearly bursting it.   It was a rough ride up the hill to the ER.   Once in the ER of the Montreal General Hospital, they transferred me onto a hospital bed in a way that caused more pain.

My first night, there was a loud, obnoxious tennis game in French, blaring at full volume on the TV.   Nobody in the ER wanted that station, but the night receptionist insisted.   It had to be sports, very loud, in French.

Photo by Cindy Lopez

The lights were on all the time.   There were junkies, a few noisy drunks and several people who were actually suffering: two heart attacks and several injuries.   There was even a tourist who was asking about the price of a hospital stay and to the tourist, who I think was American, the price quoted was sixteen thousand dollars.

They gave me some little orange pills, “for the pain” they said.   They told me these pills were the strongest pills they had, but they had no effect on me.   I was still in pain.

Around four hours after I was admitted I saw a doctor who said he need a sample of the fluid from my knee.   I told him I don’t like needles, but he stabbed me with a few of them anyway. The pain was excruciating.   He played me like a musical instrument, a different scream for each direction the stabbed me in.   The fluid was in the back of my knee.   This doctor went in from the front.

The doctor I later had called him a “Butcher.” I think I saw this same doctor again a few months later, on TV.   They said he was going into outer space.   He can stay there.   Preferably without a helmet.

At least it ended better than it began.   I got my current rheumatologist, who, with a team of medical students drained the offending fluid from my knee.   It looked like spent motor oil.   From this fluid the doctor and medical interns were able to diagnose the problem, which it turned out was a disease that had been attacking me repeatedly, usually in my ankles, since I was a child.

I have an age-old disease called gout.   Now, I’m told, gout usually affects old men in the big toe.   I know that it is a blood borne form of arthritis that can attack any joint in the body without warning.   It is extremely painful, but only once was the attack severe enough to put me into a hospital.   I can be stubborn and I can be mean, even to myself.

I’m now taking pills for the rest of my life to prevent another attack.   I still get lots of pain, though, now probably caused by other things.

“He’s not a nice cat.”

That’s exactly what the veterinarian said.   While that may not be a very professional thing for a pet doctor speaking to a distraught person caring for an animal to say under any circumstances, it was especially jarring under these circumstances.

Scimbles was a cat that lived in my apartment.   He had been placed in my care by a former roommate who moved to Europe.   Being an alley cat, he was a bit of a scrapper in general, but this night, he was suffering from urinary blockage, a common problem with male cats.   I don’t know about you, but if I couldn’t pee, I might not be in the best mood, either.

We had taken him to the Centre Vétérinaire DMV on Montreal’s West Island after the receptionist had convinced me that he wouldn’t live through the night otherwise.   They were the only vet that was open 24 hours a day and it was by now close to 2am.

The vet had presented me with two options: either pay $1000 for the operation that was needed and $500 of it up front or he’d do me a “favour” and put Scimbles down for free (except, of course, for the roughly $120 I now owed for them having a look at him).

I didn’t have $1000 or the means to get $500 on the spot, in fact I had even borrowed the $120 visit fee from a roommate.   I also didn’t want to let Scimbles die that night.   So, I was attempting to find another solution when I asked the doctor if he could clear the blockage temporarily so Scimbles could feel better and live through the night.   That way I could find a cheaper vet in the morning.

That’s when he made the comment about him not being a nice cat, as if it would be too difficult to clear the blockage as he was moving around too much, as if they didn’t have access to anything that could sedate a cat.   Eventually he relented and five minutes later, my friend was driving us home.   Scimbles was much calmer.

The next day Scimbles received treatment at the Baker Animal Hospital for a much more affordable fee that I could pay for in instalments.   Scimbles lived happily with me for another year and a half before disappearing this past summer.   Hopefully he moved on to a happier home or just maybe some day he will return.

If I had believed what I was told by the vet at DMV, Scimbles would have died that night.   Fortunately I was able to remain a bit savvy and wary of sales pitches despite being concerned.   That, essentially, is what it was, a sales pitch and a very hard sell at that: pay our fee or your cat will die.

Charging more than others for a service isn’t the problem here, that’s their right.   Demanding on an upfront payment for an operation isn’t the problem either, as a business, that’s their right, too.   The real despicable thing in this situation, I feel, is the fact that the Centre Vétérinaire DMV used hard-sell sales tactics and put Scimbles’ life in jeopardy just to make a buck.

True, the doctor did save his life temporarily and eventually made me promise that I would get Scimbles the operation somewhere or else put him to sleep because that was the humane thing to do.

Still, the humane thing for him to have done if he actually cared about animals would have been to inform me from the get-go that I had three options: pay their fee, put the cat to sleep or find somewhere else that would treat him for less money and not use a life as a bargaining chip to make profit for the business.

This event really made me wonder just what life would be like if human life was treated the same way.   I live in Canada and free universal health care has always been a given for me.   I don’t know what it’s like in the US where people have to get medical insurance or else pay for the surgery they need.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure the doctors themselves that operate under the American system, or at least most of them, have more compassion for human life than this vet did for Scimbles and I also don’t think that people have to pay up front at an emergency room in the states when it’s a life or death situation.

However, if you have the rationale that health is a product that can be used to generate profit and follow that logic to it’s obscene (and extreme) conclusion then you get a situation where a human life in the balance can be used as part of a hard-sell sales pitch to generate profit, just like a cat’s life was in the vet’s office a few years ago.

About a month after the dust had settled on this episode, I got a letter in the mail from DMV…asking me to make a donation.   I didn’t make one.