By Andre Picard, Globe and Mail, July 27, 2011
Has Mr. Layton been forthcoming enough about his health status?
Brad Lavigne, Mr. Layton’s principal secretary, said the public already knows plenty. He told The Canadian Press that he has tried to balance the need to “provide the public relevant information” with “holding back information of a private nature.”
Sorry, but the NDP has failed to get the balance right. The cameras don’t need to follow Mr. Layton into surgery, but we deserve to know a lot more than we’ve been told to date.
Saying that Mr. Layton has a “new, non-prostate cancer” is far too vague. It’s unacceptable fudging.
Does he have a second cancer that is unrelated to his prostate cancer? Or has his cancer metastasized – meaning it has moved elsewhere in the body?
These are important details. Today, men with prostate cancer have a five-year survival rate that hovers around 90 per cent. But when prostate cancer metastasizes, the survival rate drops below 10 per cent.
Just becase the Americans demand and get a complete disclosure of their political leaders' health records does not make that fact the only approach to the issue.
While I agree with the needs for disclosure, there is an appetite for the most minute details in American public life that seeks to destroy before the subject of the disclosure has a chance either to explain or to serve.
For example, what if Mr. Layton's doctors really do not know if this cancer is a primary or a secondary (metastasised)?
Or, what if the doctors do not know the expected prognosis, or even the treatment of choice?
Or, what if Mr. Layton is going to be the subject of an experimental treatment, in a research trial, where the outcomes are both unknown and unpredictable?
The public's right to information is not limitless while the public's demand for information is literally insatiable. This is not about whether Mr. Layton is a "big man" and can take the scrutiny.
It is about what kind of society we wish to live in. And theAmerican model is clearly not the one we seek to follow, nor do we need to follow. There are millions of families in this country, in which private details of an individual's health have not been fully disclosed to other members of those families.
And that results from individual choices of doctors, family members, subject patients and the potential implications of full disclosure. For example, even the doctor's disclosure of the details of the condition of their patient's health has been the subject of appropriate treatment. There was a time when disclosure of a patient's cancer was linked to the remaining time in that person's life. It shortened the time period, so doctors backed off from full disclosure.
It was T.S. Eliot who reminded us that "man cannot stand too much reality" and that it not a testament to our inferiority, our neurosis, or our being less than adequate. It is rather an observation that some details are too much for some people, and perhaps at this time, Mr Layton felt and believed that his caucus and the Canadian people were not ready for a full disclosure. Or perhaps, Mr. Layton himself was not ready to deliver that full disclosure because to do so would rob him of every vestige of hope for his return to public life.
Back off, Mr Picard, and let the patient's case play out in its own good time. And put your detective's eye, diligence and absolutist's "need to know" back in its metaphoric holster where it belongs. There will be time enough for enough details to emerge, and you and I are not, and should not be in charge of that time or that decision.