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Peanut Wars: Inconvenience vs. Death

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Tagged As: Allergy, Health, and Society

Contributed Article By: GNIFYUS (originally posted to the real OmniNerd)

Our school district is in an uproar over a recent decision to ban peanut based food which can cause severe reactions in people with this allergy, including anaphylactic shock which is potentially fatal. It seems that a fair number of children (about 7-10) in a school of approximately 500 have shown up with the allergy this year and the cases were deemed severe enough in the eyes of the administration to warrant the ban. The reaction of parents ranged from understanding compliance to shouting fits of rage towards school officials at an informative meeting given on the issue. Editorials supporting both sides abounded in the local paper, with some raising the issue of a "special treatment precedent" fearing all other ailments will now cause some sort of ban or new rule, and others opting for caution and a feeling that the children must be protected by any reasonable means. A good number of people were also put off by the inconvenience of having to come up with alternate foods when they claimed a peanut butter sandwich was one of the few lunches their child would eat. In addition, many expressed anger at having to read labels and monitor what food their child might bring to school.

The "Me Generation" with their ever present need for instant satisfaction has shown itself in this ongoing "Peanut War." In an effort to bypass the very real plight of the children affected by this allergy, and thereby not be inconvenienced in any way, some arguments have been given containing points which all boil down to a statement of, "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few." In general, this statement may hold as a general guideline for some cases in life, but in this instance, we are talking about the needs of the many being only those of convenience, and the needs of the few consisting of a possible life or death situation. That's a big shift in the weight of the argument and it causes me to ask another question: Where is the compassion?

There were arguments made that question the effects of setting precedence in this situation. For instance, some were questioning whether sweet snacks will be allowed in the school when diabetics might be present, or whether a lactose intolerant child could cause a ban of milk based foods. These are straw man points in the whole issue to say the least; they are not comparing apples to apples at all in terms of the effect in which the minute exposure to the above foods can cause for them, as opposed to the deadly exposure to peanut-based products for someone afflicted with peanut allergies. Special accommodations are already being made within the scope of other ailments children have, such as diabetes and other food and health related problems. Nurses administer medication; teachers are notified in order to try to assure proper diet is followed. The schools have dealt with these and other problems as they made themselves known. Unfortunately, making similar accommodations within the scope of what needs to be done to prevent deadly allergic reactions to peanuts does affect others on a greater scale because even the smell or airborne properties of peanut-based products can cause a potentially deadly reaction. To me this only means we have to step up our willingness to help instead of just complaining and thinking of ourselves. All involved know that there can be no guarantees of a perfectly safe environment when the sensitivity is so elevated and the food products so common, but we can at least form an attitude to try. The only precedence to be set that I see as being relevant in this issue is the one in which the professionals of our school district continue to do the best they can to ensure the safety of all the children in which they are commissioned to provide an education.

Finally, what is the correct reaction and policy for a school system to adopt in a situation balancing great inconvenience with a potentially life threatening situation?

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