Is it Insensitive to say the Super-Obese are Selfish?

Goliath Casket in Indiana can outfit the morbidly obese.
Goliath Casket in Indiana can outfit the morbidly obese.

I know it’s just a TV show, but last night’s episode of Grey’s Anatomy really struck a nerve. It was titled “How Insensitive,” and the main plot line centered on a 700-pound patient – delivered via truck because he couldn’t fit in an ambulance – and you can imagine the one-liners, of which there were plenty:  “Did the circus come to town?” “No, just the elephant.”


Turns out the guy had all kinds of problems, but they had to open him up to find the source of his stomach pain. After cutting through layers of fat, viewers were treated to a greenish river of pus pouring out of his infected innards.

After all the drama of the patient just wanting to go home and die, he was talked into having this surgery because the odds were very high he wouldn’t survive, and at least his pretty, thin, pregnant (!!!) wife could one day tell their child that at least daddy tried, instead of just leaving “a 700-pound mess” for her to clean up, as it was so nicely put.

Call me insensitive, but I’m just being honest: If you are so big you cannot walk, cannot bathe yourself or are incapable of supporting yourself financially because of your weight, then you my friend are one of the most selfish people in the world.

I say this because there is a cure for what ails you, and Lord knows that I know it’s far from easy. But it is in one’s power to be healthy, whether through exercise or surgery. To do nothing is very selfish indeed.

Cancer is incurable. Ask someone incapacitated by cancer, or AIDS, or some other debilitating, life-threatening disease if the ability to recover to full wellness isn’t worth some level of sacrifice and discomfort.

A Polish Catholic friend of mine owns a funeral home in the state of New York. (I’m being vague for reasons that will soon be made clear; I’m sharing his ethnicity so you can snicker at how well I did not blend into the background.) About seven years ago, I went up there for a couple of days to quietly observe his daily operations. He handles several services a day, and during my visit he received the body of a childhood friend that weighed about 600 pounds.


The casket had to be special-ordered, and the embalming process took all night long, as opposed to a few hours. The staff struggled mightily with this gentleman’s body. It was the biggest they’d ever handled, and none of their standard equipment or tables could support it.

Usually, they dress the body, place it in the casket and bring it up to the viewing parlor, but this guy, and his casket, was too big and too heavy. They put the casket in the parlor, then brought the body up naked. Wait, it gets worse: At one point the body slipped off the gurney onto the floor of the freight elevator, and neighborhood firemen were called in to assist. Eventually they were able to wrestle the body into the casket.


The man had not owned a suit – hadn’t left his home for years, actually – so my friend had to buy two large suits and two large shirts, cut them in half and fit the pieces around the naked body to make him presentable. I saw the completed work, and he did a fine job, but guess what? Because of the amount of flesh, there was an unforeseen problem during the embalming process that, um, revealed itself right in the middle of the viewing. The gentleman’s family and friends had to be escorted out of the parlor as the staff hastily tidied things up.

The family, thank God, never suspected a thing. The funeral home’s longtime staff of professionals, however, was traumatized.


I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: If I get really sick or injured, I don’t want doctors and nurses struggling with me, possibly hurting themselves because of my weight. If my child or brother needs a kidney, I want to be able to give one of mine. If you’re too overweight, you cannot. And what if my life depends on an organ transplant? You won’t even make the list if you’re too fat.

What I’m saying is, if I willfully allow myself to be a burden to others, that’s not only selfish, it’s mean-spirited.


“How Insensitive” indeed.

Obese patient: We’re going to need a bigger hospital.  ~  last night's Grey’s Anatomy


Leslie J. Ansley is an award-winning journalist and entrepreneur who blogs daily for TheRoot. She lives in Raleigh, NC.