Eliminating Shame from the Bariatric Surgery Decision
As I surgeon, I’m often fascinated and sometimes disheartened by the lack of empathy some patients receive from others (medical professionals, colleagues, family members and friends) when it comes to their decision to undergo bariatric surgery. Yes, as with any surgical decision, bariatric surgery has risks. But when I think about all of the procedures available today for the many conditions that can potentially threaten our lives, I’m left wondering how much the public really knows about severe obesity and bariatric surgery as a potentially effective treatment for it.
A recent study published by the New England Journal of Medicine, one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious medical journals, sheds significant light on the subject of severe obesity and gastric bypass surgery as an effective treatment option. You see in most cases of severe obesity, Type 2 diabetes is a significant factor. Science has proven that diabetes, especially when poorly managed, is a significant contributor to limb loss and in some cases, even death. The study’s researchers concluded that gastric bypass surgery is quite successful in the alleviation and reversal of Type 2 diabetes in the patients who were studied. This isn’t the first scientific study to support bariatric surgery’s effectiveness. There have been many others over the years.
Yet, when we filter all of this positive clinical data through the lens of public opinion, why is there still so much debate over surgical weight-loss as an acceptable option for treating severe obesity and the conditions that accompany it? I think the answer lies mostly in the dwindling but still widely held belief that obesity is a “lifestyle” disease. There is much clinical evidence (especially in recent years) to refute this belief, but I’d like to offer you a comparison to consider. Let’s take lung cancer as an example. This potentially deadly disease is also viewed by some as a “lifestyle” disease. Perhaps decades of smoking have lead to an individual being diagnosed with it. But when the diagnosis is given, and if the cancer hasn’t spread, surgery to remove the cancer may be offered as a solution and possible cure. Again, do the benefits of surgery outweigh the risks? That’s an individual decision of course, but science has certainly proven time and again that surgical removal of cancerous tumors before they’ve spread is an important factor in long-term cancer remission. To suggest that, just because this individual was a smoker, he or she doesn’t “deserve” to have surgery or is taking an “easy way out” is ridiculous when you look at it from this new perspective, isn’t it? In fact, it seems down-right cruel.
As a surgeon who has dedicated his career to serving the severely obese, “judgment” of how a patient came by their personal set of circumstances before they came to me is irrelevant. My job is to help them get better. To help them heal. To help them regain a healthy lifestyle. Perhaps the public could think about it from this perspective before they make snap judgments. There is no shame in choosing bariatric surgery as an effective tool in managing and reversing the effects of severe obesity. Studies have proven that it saves lives. What could be more important and worthy than that?