08 February 2007

Esther Rantzen and the medical profession

Extracts from an article by Esther Rantzen
about her daughter suffering from ME

When I saw my once active, energetic daughter walking heavily upstairs, and struggling to get off a sofa, at first I put it down to teenage lethargy. Now I know better, I can date the onset of the fatigue. It was triggered by a bout of glandular fever in 1992 when Emily was 14 — a common enough illness in young people, but she never fully recovered. She went back to school after a week or two, but from then on she was overcome with a tiredness that sent her back to sleep in the library or at the back of the class. She went to the school nurse, who ‘counselled’ her, mainly about the depressing effect of my career on her emotional health. Emily argued with the nurse, and never told me. I would have left my job in television instantly if Emily or I had thought the school nurse was right, but this didn’t look like emotional depression to us.

During the next two years she had longer and longer periods off school and in bed, missing out on two thirds of her education, but she still managed to catch up on her own so that her grades at GCSE were a perfect clutch of A-stars. Once again, looking back, I realise that effort was the last straw. The next term she collapsed, and left school permanently. At this point our GP referred her to a neurologist, thank heavens. Had we been referred to a psychiatrist, as many ME patients are, I might have come under suspicion of abusing her, been diagnosed with Munchausen by Proxy, and told that I was deliberately causing my daughter’s illness myself.

It may sound far-fetched, but I have met families to whom that had happened, and mothers who not only had the anxiety and distress of a child’s illness to deal with but the hideous experience of having to defend themselves against accusations of abuse. When a child’s illness baffles the medical profession they sometimes look around for someone to blame, and mum is often the nearest and easiest target. I have campaigned on behalf of parents and children who suddenly find a care order slapped on their sick child. I’ve heard of terrible scenes when screaming children were torn from their parents’ arms and locked in closed psychiatric wards. I know of one father who went to prison rather than allow that to happen to his son.

Luckily our consultant neurologist was one of the few at that time — this was 12 years ago — who recognised ME as a genuine illness, and told us that Emily was a classic case. There wasn’t much he could do, and he was quite honest about that. He told us that nobody knows what causes ME or how to cure it. (Daily Mail, 6 February 2007)

My comments

This article provides a vivid picture of the parlous position of those who are in any way above average in modern egalitarian Britain. Esther Rantzen is not overtly critical of this state of affairs; she had obtained a way of using her ability to gain reward and attention from the society around her precisely by identifying with socialist ideology and becoming a prominent promoter of interventionist ideas.

And yet she describes a state of affairs in which it is dangerous for a middle-class parent to consult a doctor about their child. They are liable to be blamed and have a psychiatric interpretation placed upon them by doctors who are working-class by upbringing and have lower IQs than their own. Their children can be taken away from them at the drop of a hat and they or their children may be incarcerated in prisons or mental institutions. This is the modern form of class warfare.

And consider the ‘counselling’ given by the school nurse, quite likely also a person of working class background and low IQ. The blame for the illness of Esther Rantzen’s daughter is placed upon her and her above-average career, thus trying to turn daughter against mother and (if possible) destroy Esther Rantzen’s career.

Before the inception of the Welfare State, such presumptuous willingness to tear down the respectable middle class was unheard of. If there was a school nurse at all, she was certainly not handing out incitements to persecute parents. People with above average IQs are, at times, surprisingly willing to consult people with lower IQs than their own, who are jealous and resentful of their actual and potential success in life.

And, although of course Esther Rantzen does not mention the possibility, it is perfectly possible that her daughter was just another victim of the ‘feminisation’ of education, which discriminates against people with ability and drive, and which has resulted in more girls than boys going to university.

It is more than likely that a daughter of Esther Rantzen would have an above average IQ and a strong drive to achievement; this could easily lead to depression in modern society. What opportunities is it prepared to offer to such people? Although, of course, only physiological causes are considered as initiating the daughter’s depressed state.

Esther Rantzen follows convention in describing her daughter’s absence from school as ‘missing out on two thirds of her education’, but in fact her daughter’s GCSE successes and the fact that she has been offered a place in Oxford illustrate how little attendance at school has to do with examination success, at least in a positive sense, although there may well be many cases in which it is a massively negative factor.