Even the fittest of us have an occasional bout of illness, and whilst in a perfect world, we would all have understanding doctors and access to cruelty-free medicines and treatments, this is sadly not the case. Although veganism deserves to be taken seriously as a philosophy that guides all areas of life, some practitioners have limited nutritional education, some attribute blame for unrelated conditions to veganism, and some even ridicule patients, making a difficult situation even more stressful.
We cannot rectify the situation overnight, and of course, the steps one can take depend highly on location, finances, and for minors, parental views. However, there are a few ways in which we can prepare for those dreaded periods of sickness, to try help things go smoothly at the doctor's office.
Do Your Research
Yes, doctors do get annoyed by patients who wave WebMD printouts at them, but given the aforementioned lack of nutritional training that non-specialists undertake, getting a good grounding in what constitutes a balanced vegan diet, and communicating this, will (hopefully!) encourage professionals to take vegans seriously; knowledge shows that a person is serious, and is not suffering the effects of a lack of protein or a crash diet. This is especially important for teenage vegans, who may be stereotyped as wanting to lose weight, and pregnant and breastfeeding women and new parents, as plant-based pregnancy and infanthood remain unfortunately stigmatised. For those who don't want to be parents, research into cruelty-free contraceptives is also very helpful, as in my experience (in multiple European states), doctors do not tend to be knowledgeable in this area.
Check Your Insurance
If the most common medication for an ailment comes in gelatine capsules, it is probably the cheapest option too, and more expensive vegan-friendly pills or syrups may not be covered by certain health insurance policies; something to check when choosing a provider.
Know Your Rights
Yet more research, which takes up time, but if you can, it's worth trying to find out location-specific answers to questions such as:
* Can I complain about a doctor who refuses to talk seriously about veganism?
* What constitutes discrimination on the grounds of beliefs?
* How can I request information of ingredients in medicines, or previous tests conducted on animals?
* Do I have the right to demand a vegan nutritionist (if there is one close by)?
* At what age can I request vegan medicines against my parents' wishes?
* What happens legally, or with my insurance, if I refuse a non-vegan treatment and my condition worsens?
This information can be difficult to find, but national vegan associations may be able to assist.
Consider Your Values and Compromises
Whilst it would be lovely to be 100% cruelty-free at all times, sometimes difficult situations arise, and compromises or utilitarian calculations need to be made. For example, you might accept tablets with active ingredients that have been tested on animals in the past in order to avoid those with ongoing tests, or you might prioritise getting well in order to become a healthy vegan activist on the streets over hospital-bound statements and campaigns. You may trust your doctor immediately, or prefer to take time, when feasible, to consider the best course of action. These decisions are highly personal, and not for me to make here for anybody else, but thinking about non-ideal situations in advance and informing next-of-kin and long-term healthcare practitioners about any decisions can reduce stress and speed-up processes in emergency situations.
If you cannot find any vegan items, from painkillers to condoms, in local supermarkets or apothecaries, write a blog post, get lobbying, and fill out feedback forms. Enough voices will make a difference, however slow the process may seem.
Hopefully, these points won't need to be called into action very frequently, but it's always good to be prepared.
Photograph courtesy of Jamie, used under the terms of the Creative Commons license.