In our individualistic society, we are encouraged to own our choice — to take responsibility for the choices we make and the implications and end results of those choices. This all seems very logical and straightforward, until we start to think about how our choices may impact others. In yesterday’s Times Colonist, (Feb 14, 2016: Don’t Jump the Gun on Concussion Dangers) Lawrie McFarlane reminds us that there are always 2 sides to the debate about sports related brain injuries. He questions the depth and validity of brain injury research, implying that it is skewed as it is only testing athletes who have engaged in impact sports. Secondly, he questions whether these same athletes should be allowed to make their own choices about their livelihoods and the possible long term health risks associated with that. He concludes with this thought: “But if a small number of young men see contact sports as a ticket to a prosperous future, and willingly take the risk, don’t they own that choice?”
Both of his questions are valid but only touch the surface of the issues related to brain injury. Traumatic brain injuries are like snowflakes — no two are alike or can be treated or diagnosed in the same way. The physical effects of brain injury can only be documented and researched postmortem, which naturally restricts research. And there is no question that more research is needed on the non-sports related population. In order to accomplish this, a nation wide data base of concussions and brain injury needs to be developed so that brain injury survivors can be tracked across their lifetimes.
But more importantly, we need to consider this question of owning our choices. At what point do our choices affect others? When a traumatic brain injury occurs, the impact is wide reaching, not just for the survivor and their family, but for our society as a whole. Consider these statistics:
- 53% of the homeless population has had a brain injury, up to 70% of them before they became homeless.
- 90% of marriages end in divorce following a brain injury
- 80% of prisoners have had at least one brain injury (Mind of Homelessness: 2014)
It is not difficult to see that there is a strong connection between brain injury and the breakdown of relationships, loss of jobs, addiction, homelessness and criminal behaviour. And, of course, all of these issues produce challenges that affect our society as a whole. The financial impact alone is startling:
- $1500 per day for acute medical care — many brain injury survivors are in hospital for months.
- $323 per day for prison
These are our tax dollars, funding the treatment and on-going care for people who “owned their choice” to engage in highly risky activities.
With around 22,000 new brain injuries in BC every year, the financial costs become astronomical. And that is without even considering the human costs: the breakdown of families, chronic unemployment and loss of self-sufficiency for survivors, and the loss of tax payers and employable individuals. The ripples continue to widen, and that is without even considering how our culture idolizes sports figures and encourages our children to engage in those same risky behaviours. Children are receiving their first sports related concussions at earlier ages, with more frequency and with longer ranging impacts. Is this what we want for our children? Is this what we want for our society?
Who owns the choice?
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