The Curious Case of Banning Blubber


Just Ban Dr. Phat

New Zealand media law is a curious thing. Judges issue gag-orders for trials on a routine basis. And newspapers risk legal trouble if they report on a "suicide," calling the death an incident "police are no longer investigating," instead.

This is all by way of saying: there's some curiously vague language in the following story.

Also curious, is the story's claim that the Kiwi government has denied a work visa to an unidentified man because "he" was overweight.

According to the Timaru Herald:

[Immigration New Zealand spokesman Rowan] Saker said it was important to note that obesity would not in itself cause an applicant to fail health screening requirements, and that all migrants to New Zealand must have an acceptable standard of health to minimise costs and demands on New Zealand's health services.

The government's rationale is downright strange, because "he" is given only one signifier in the story: He is a medical doctor:

The Timaru Herald understands the doctor, who is highly respected in his field, has been declined a visa because he has failed a health screening because of his size and in spite of his undoubted medical skills.

Immigration New Zealand (INZ) appears concerned at what cost the overweight doctor might have on the health system, something he was coming to the country to help with.

The doctor isn't the only medical professional to get stuck at the arrival gate. Earlier this week, The Press reported that:

A British nurse who weighs 134kg has been told she's too fat to live in New Zealand….

The 51-year-old, who is not named in official documents, argued that her 52 inch waistline was no obstacle to her work as a nurse, which involved 60-hour weeks….

She was offered a job in a home and hospital for the elderly in a provincial town, documents from the country's Residence Review Board said, and applied for residence in March 2008. But officials rejected the argument that 10 years' experience as a nurse meant she should be allowed to live there…

…The certifying doctor recorded "morbid obesity in otherwise well lady".

Not only is the woman a "well lady," but she–and the doctor–are desperately needed in New Zealand, which "might" be experiencing an "exodus" of medical workers, due to higher wages abroad. The town of Timaru knows the situation first hand. Last year, junior doctors there went on strike, partly because they felt understaffed, overworked, and underpaid.  

The local health board is appealing INZ's decision, but things don't look good. The Government's Residence Review Board has already dismissed the nurse's appeal. INZ denied both medical workers because their BMIs exceeded 35, the policy limit.

Fans of Reason may have noticed the curious way in which the magazine's staff choices to write "healthy," "normal," "overweight," and "obese," when discussing "accurate" BMI results. Go here to find out why. Senior Editor Jacob Sullum as the skinny on why the Kiwi government should actually encourage fatties to emigrate. And forget laying off the bacon, Sullum says we should lay off the fatties. Reason.tv Editor Nick Gillespie has been in the trenches of the Fat Wars. Science Correspondent Ron Bailey on discrimination  as a positive incentive. 

[Disclaimer: I worked as a page designer and columnist at the Timaru Herald for five months last year. I made it past immigration because, with a BMI of 25.8, I am only "prone to health risks."]