I suspect that there are very few of you not familiar with the way police officers in New York City describe suspects, thanks to endless seasons and repeats of shows such as Law and Order, CSI:NY and NYPD Blue. A description like this might be broadcast on police radio…
“White male, short blond hair, late teens/early 20s, approximately 6ft, blue jeans, black T-shirt”
According to an article in The Australian (reprinted from The Times), police officers in New York are worried that a new bill being brought city council may mean the above description will have to be changed to:
“Person, approximately 6ft, blue jeans, black T-shirt”
They are concerned because the proposed changes would allow members of the public to launch a lawsuit against the NYPD if they are wrongly apprehended and detained on the basis of race, colour, creed, age, gender, sexual orientation or disability, amongst other things. The police union have launched a campaign featuring an advertisement depicting a blindfolded policemen standing in Times Square.
I was wondering what would happen if similar politically correct measures were brought in for us, as Australian GPs. The item numbers for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health checks and assessments for those with an intellectual disability would probably be the first to go. The checks which discriminate on age, such as the Health Assessment for those ages 75 and older, and the Healthy Kids Check may well soon follow. Maybe Chronic Disease Management Plans and Mental Health Care Plans could also be deemed discriminatory.
The loss of these Medicare item numbers would not call the sky to fall in – after all, 15 years ago we didn’t have any of these at our disposal and bumbled along OK – but what if such changes affected the way we were able to manage patients? The NYPD are concerned that without being to state and act on the obvious they will be unable to do their job effectively (i.e. catch the baddies). Imagine trying to diagnose and manage disease if constrained by similar restrictions. We’d have to forget that different racial groups have different propensities to certain diseases. We certainly wouldn’t be able to have a lower threshold for testing for things like HIV and syphilis in men who have sex with men. Skin colour would play no part in assessing risk of skin cancer. And everyone gets offered a PAP smear: male or female, young or old – can’t use age or gender to decide who to target.
OK, so this is clearly ridiculous, but my point is, so is not being able to target and apprehend a suspect on the basis of gender. I shouldn’t be surprised; gender neutrality in language has been a hot issue for years. Perhaps this is the next step? I read that more than half the states in the US have moved to gender-neutral language in all official documentation. Changing personal pronouns from “he” to “he or she” seems reasonable, despite being a little clunky in places, but changing “penmanship” to “handwriting”, and “freshmen” to “first year students” appears to me to be a little over the top. When hearing that words like “manhole” have been changed to “utility hole” or “maintenance hole”, however, my eyes roll so far, an observer may wrongly assume I’m an oculogyric crisis. That is, if they are not a police officer from New York. I’m pretty sure identifying someone on the basis of eye position would be in the “considered potentially offensive” list.
First published in Australian Doctor on 2nd August, 2013 On Policital Correctness Gone Mad