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Professor puts chronic fatigue into historical perspective

By David South

Hannah Institute for the History of Medicine Newsletter (Toronto, Canada), Number 18, Summer, 1993

Drawing on his thought-provoking book From Paralysis to Fatigue, the University of Toronto’s Hannah Professor Edward Shorter took the subject of psychogenic disorders to family doctors last May.

Delivering the Hannah Lecture in the History of Medicine at the Annual Scientific Assembly of the College of Family Physicians of Canada, Professor Shorter found an audience with special needs.

“They haven’t been exposed to the work of historians,” says Professor Shorter. “It was a real personal challenge to say something meaningful to an audience of clinicians.

“It was quite illuminating for them to see how patterns of psychogenic illness change historically – to see something like paralysis be replaced by chronic fatigue syndrome.”

Publisher: Hannah Institute for the History of Medicine

Location: Toronto, Canada

Editor and Writer: David South

I worked as Editor and Writer for the newsletter of the Hannah Institute for the History of Medicine (under the direction of the Editor-in-Chief and Hannah Executive Director Dr. J.T. H. Connor) in the early 1990s. Located close to the University of Toronto and within a neighbourhood claiming a long association with medical and scientific discovery (Sir Frederick Banting, co-developer of insulin for the treatment of diabetes, lived at 46 Bedford Road,), the goal was to better connect Canada’s medical history community of scholars and raise the profile of the funding resources available to further the study of medical history in Canada.

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ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

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New Seniors’ Group Boosts ‘Grey Power’: Grey Panthers Chapter Opens With A Canadian Touch

By David South

Today’s Seniors (Canada), April 1993

Check your prejudices at the door, look beyond your self-interest, and open your mind, because the Grey Panthers are here in Canada.

Joe Moniz, the 26-year-old founder of the Canadian Grey Panthers, is confident that his ambitious plans for a new national seniors’ organization are just what Canadian seniors need. 

That’s right: 26-years-old. Modelled on the U.S. Grey Panthers, the Canadian Grey Panthers believe in harnessing the power of all age groups, making the connection that everybody will eventually be a senior and that seniors benefit from a better society for everyone. 

“The major difference between us and any other organization is our slogan, “Age and Youth Working Together,” he says. “Look at our pension fund. It’s depleting. I’m concerned about my future as a senior citizen – will there be a pension fund? We want to act now, to bring youth and age together to improve the situation of seniors today and improve our situation in the future. 

“Membership is open to all age groups. We want to bring seniors into day care to interact with children. We want to deal with the universities, give people the opportunity to discuss and unite. It’s a different approach, but it can make a huge difference.”

Moniz has already organized the group’s first chapter, in Hamilton, complete with a board of retired university professors and doctors. The group has put together insurance packages that will “blow the others out of the water.”

“All seniors’ attempts at lobbying in the past have been short term,” says a blunt Moniz. “We are the organization that will make the difference. We will lobby provincially, federally, and municipally, and we are non-partisan.

“The reason I’m introducing the Grey Panthers is to keep grey power alive in Canada, and to provide the necessary channels to do so through lobbying efforts. If anyone has problems with local politicians, they can call us, and we in turn let them know the channels they should use. There are a lot of seniors out there being cheated, and it is up to us to help them.”

The Canadian Grey Panthers (which uses the British spelling, as opposed to its American counterpart) will initially concentrate on four issues: pensions, drug plans, affordable housing and long-term care, and will communicate information through newsletters, surveys and meetings. 

Moniz promises to make the Panthers accessible to all, no matter what their income. He plans to hit the streets and visit institutions to inform seniors of the group’s presence. As if to prove the group’s potential for excitement, an enthusiastic gentleman from a local retirement home interrupts Moniz during a coffee shop interview. “That’s the best thing I’ve heard from a young person in Toronto,” he says. 

The U.S. Panthers were formed by political activist Maggie Kuhn and five friends in 1970. Back then, their name wasn’t as exciting. It was the convoluted and unsexy “Consultation of Older and Younger Adults for Social Change.” In 1972, they adopted the media’s pet name – a grey twist on radical African-American rights organization the Black Panthers. 

The radical milieu of political activism was contagious – and the Panthers symbolized its jump from the youth of America to other generations. 

“When we formed, we were an intergenerational group,” says Panthers’ U.S. national chair, Charlotte Flynn. “The first issue the group addressed was mandatory retirement. We combat the stigma of ageism, which is making decisions about people based on chronological age. Ageism isn’t just confined to the elderly – ageism exists for young people as well.”

The agenda of the Panthers is just as radical today. Flynn, who is candid about the group’s failures as well as its successes, admits that it isn’t the easiest route to popularity. With membership at about 45,000, the U.S. Panthers have spoken out on now-popular issues like health care, the environment, affordable housing – and taken brave stands against mainstream opinion when it came to the Gulf War and the invasion of Panama. 

And they think big. Not content with just influencing the American political scene, the Panthers have taken on the world, gaining official advisor status at the United Nations. 

Although involved in a broad range of issues, Flynn says the Panthers are primarily seen as a strong voice for the rights of American seniors. 

“We have tried very hard to let people know we are not a special interest group for the elderly,” says Flynn. “But we are always getting called upon to highlight what any legislation is doing to older people.” 

With Panther groups sprouting in Europe and now in Canada, the important issue of maintaining the integrity of the Panther name has arisen, says Flynn. She points to the flip side of having a reputation for action: people want to start branches without being interested in the full agenda of the Panthers, using the name for shock value. At the last convention in November 1992, the Panthers formed a committee to act as quality control monitors for the name. 

One thing is clear from the ambitious agenda of the Grey Panthers – they aren’t for everyone. 

But Moniz’s pragmatic approach seems distinct from the American Panthers. He shies away from some of the American group’s positions, emphasizing a balance between insurance policies and political policies. 

“If you read the American Panthers’ position sheet, it’s anti-this and anti-that,” he says. “We aren’t going to take that approach. It would be suicide.”

But he is quick in his praise of the group and its founder Maggie Kuhn. “People may consider her actions to be radical, but they’re not. Look at the achievements. She is one of the top 25 active women in the U.S.

“The Gray Panthers are achievers. They have proven the effectiveness of intergenerational attempts at social justice.”

A quick call to seniors’ groups drew many surpised faces. 

“I can’t say anything about them – I don’t know who they are,” responded Murray Morgenthau, executive director of the Canadian Association of Retired Persons (CARP). 

Jane Leitch at the United Senior Citizens of Ontario had heard something was happening but wonders why a new group is forming “with so many groups out there.”

One Voice spokesperson Andrew Aitkens says his group is closer to the American Association of Retired Persons than the Panthers in their approach, and that they “have found that there are much more effective ways for advocacy. We don’t march on the Hill at the drop of the hat.”

But Flynn says the Panthers embody a philosophy distinct from all other seniors’ groups. “As Maggie Kuhn said, ‘those of us who are older are the elders of the tribe and should be concerned about survival.’ We look at all issues that deny people the ability to realize their full potential, whether young or old. We are really interested in empowering people rather than being a special interest for the elderly.” 

More from Canada’s Today’s Seniors

Feds Call For AIDS, Blood System Inquiry: Some Seniors Infected

Government Urged To Limit Free Drugs For Seniors

Health Care On The Cutting Block: Ministry Hopes For Efficiency With Search And Destroy Tactics

Seniors Falling Through The Health Care Cost Cracks

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This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2023

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The Ethics Of Soup: Grading Supermarket Shelves – For Profit

By David South

This Magazine (Canada), March-April, 1993

Where social activists have tried and failed to get Canadian corporations to change their behaviour towards the environment, labour, women and minorities, EthicScan Canada – a for-profit consulting and research firm – steps in.

Toronto-based EthicScan acts as a consultant on ethical issues to both government and private businesses and produces a guide for investors. Its latest project hit the bookstores last fall. The Ethical Shopper’s Guide to Supermarket Products rates products according to companies’ ethical performance. “EthicScan is the only company in Canada doing this,” says senior writer Joan Helsen. “Companies respond to us differently because we are – like them – a business. We have a very good reputation for doing strong research and presenting the facts.”

Non-profit groups have produced similar guides. In the US, perhaps the best known is the American Council on Economic Priorities’ Shopping for a Better World. Here in Canada, both Pollution Probe’s Green Consumer Guide and the Ontario Public Interest Research Group’s The Supermarket Tour offer educational information.

But The Ethical Shopper’s Guide is the first guide in Canada to give a product-by-product breakdown, and to detail the web of corporate ownership. It lists more than 1,200 brand-name products from baby food to soft drinks, with the manufacturer’s “grade” for each ethical category. The guide also profiles 87 companies, with an “honour roll” of 37 corporations.

All of this can be confusing. Oxo gets an F for “women’s issues” and F+ for “environmental management,” but scores A+ on “progressive staff policies” and “environmental performance.” (Apparently. “environmental management” has to do with company structures for dealing with environmental issues while “environmental performance” measures how much it actually pollutes.) What aspect of Oxo’s ethical behaviour do you reward or punish?

EthicScan’s approach fits current advertising trends. Nissan tells us it is just trying to build cars we can live with. Loblaws puts “Green” on everything from plastic garbage bags to tubes of shampoo. But once idea-starved ad copywriters move on to the next gimmick, EthicScan may find that the relationship between ethics and profit isn’t as straightforward as its grading system suggests.

Find in a library:

Worldcat.org: Ethics of soup: grading supermarket shelves — for profit (EthicScan), This Magazine, 26, March-April 1993, 6

ISSN: 1491-2678

OCLC Number / Unique Identifier: 8247756182

Available to subscribers to Gale In Context: College database.

“Goods on Groceries” was published in Now Magazine, July 2-8, 1992 (Toronto, Canada).
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This work is licensed under a
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ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2023

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New Legislation Will Allow Control Of Medical Treatment

By David South

Today’s Seniors (Canada), December 1993

It isn’t the nicest thing to think about, but if accident or illness strikes, you could end up receiving unwanted treatment. 

But in 1994 things will change. The living will or advance directive – a document clearly stating a patient’s wishes about how they want to be treated – will become part of the doctor-patient relationship. 

A trio of acts passed last December – the Advocacy Act, the Substitute Decisions Act and the Consent to Treatment Act – allow, albeit in rather vague language, for Ontarians to set out in advance which medical procedures they would or wouldn’t accept and let’s them name a proxy in case they are incapable of expressing their wishes. 

This vague language – intended to allow patients to customize their wishes – means that writing a living will can prove to be a troubling and confusing experience. 

To aid decision-making, the University of Toronto Centre for Bioethics is offering advice through a “model” living will. 

The centre’s Dr. Peter Singer has geared the “model” to meet Ontario legislation and to offer a guide for anybody who doesn’t know where to begin. 

“We put a lot of detail in the advance directive about states of incompetence people get into, and also the sorts of procedures providers might recommend in those health states.”

Singer sees living wills as an effective tool aiding patients to control their own health care.

“Unless the doctor is a longstanding friend it’s hard to know what patients want. As a practicing doctor, I have run into an incompetent person where their family member has no idea what sort of wishes the person would have wanted. The goal of a living will is to provide the personal care the patient would want.”

But there is a danger. Dr. Singer urges the need for informed and detailed language in a living will. 

“If I have a couple minutes to make a decision I need a document that gives me a lot of confidence that this person wouldn’t want this treatment.”

In an emergency, the doctor might not even know of the living will’s existence. Dr. Singer advises giving a copy to your family doctor, lawyer, or proxy, and keep one with you at all times. When so-called “smart” health cards come along, Dr. Singer would like to see the living will recorded on the magnetic strip along with other health information. 

Read more health and medical journalism here: Taking Medicine To The People: Four Innovators In Community Health

Read more about transforming medical history scholarship in Canada here: Hannah Institute For The History Of Medicine | 1992 – 1994

More from Canada’s Today’s Seniors

Feds Call For AIDS, Blood System Inquiry: Some Seniors Infected

Government Urged To Limit Free Drugs For Seniors

Health Care On The Cutting Block: Ministry Hopes For Efficiency With Search And Destroy Tactics

New Seniors’ Group Boosts ‘Grey Power’: Grey Panthers Chapter Opens With A Canadian Touch

Seniors Falling Through The Health Care Cost Cracks

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ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021