Another country

Ever since Danny Williams was revealed to have been seeking treatment for a heart ailment across the border, the media have been observing a strange and uncomfortable silence about the matter.

On one hand, this reticence is commendable. Williams’s preference in health care is nobody’s business, and should remain, as far as possible, a private matter between him and his God. Though some claim this is a lifestyle choice, it’s far more likely that it is a result of something beyond his control. As such, it is not a fit matter for public commentary.

But once the story has, by one means or another, entered the public domain, that puts a different colour on it. At that point, the media are not just declining to report on something: they are actively colluding in a fiction. The issue is no longer Williams’s medical inclination. It’s the media’s refusal to acknowledge reality.

It’s not as if this were twenty or thirty years ago, when the mere knowledge that someone had a preference for American health care might have been enough to end his political career, or to bring social censure and humiliation upon him. In this more enlightened age, most people are more likely to react with a yawn. It is no longer unusual to see people who openly “go south,” from captains of industry to sports stars. Many Canadians have discovered they know someone like that — perhaps even a member of their own family. All that we are accomplishing by suppressing discussion of Williams’s case is to suggest that there is something embarrassing or shameful about it. Far from erasing a stigma, we are reinforcing it.

I’m not suggesting we should go around unmasking politicians who use American health care, but who prefer not to discuss it. But this taboo on reporting things that are already public knowledge is contrary to our natural urges as a profession, and as such strikes me as unhealthy.

SIGH: For readers who are puzzled by the first paragraph, Rob Silver’s comment below is well worth reading.