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Health professionals raise issue of nuclear war

Tana Dineen — November 1984

Toronto — Nuclear war is the most pressing health hazard ever to threaten mankind. Not surprisingly, health professionals are awakening to the terrifying possibility, and viewing prevention of ‘the final epidemic’ as both a personal and a professional responsibility.

On September 12, 1984, Dr. Christopher Ross chaired an open forum in Toronto on the role of health professionals in the prevention of nuclear war. Participating on the panel were Gordon Hardacre, Family Practice Unit, Toronto General Hospital, and Chairperson, Physicians for Social Responsibility (Toronto); Susan Goldberg, Associate Prof. of Psychology/Psychiatry, University of Toronto, Research Psychologist at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, and a member of Psychologists for Social Responsibility; Grace Ross, Supervisor, Public Health Nursing, City of North York; and Nico Trocme, Children’s Aid Society of Metropolitan Toronto, and a Board Member of Social Workers for Peace.

Dr. Hardacre outlined the history of the physicians’ group, from the beginning in Boston in the early 60’s, through the formation of the international group, and development of the Canadian one. The Canadian group, founded in Toronto by psychiatrist, Dr. Frank Sommers, now has about 2,000 members.

Most of the energy expended to date, in Canada and around the world, has been on educating health professionals, politicians, and the public about the medical consequences of nuclear war. Many physicians have addressed government leaders, spoken at public meetings, and now have in their own waiting rooms information pamphlets about the nuclear issue.

Dr. Goldberg spoke about reaching audiences within professional circles and noted the opportunities which members of Psychologists for Social Responsibility are taking to raise the nuclear issue at meetings of provincial, national, and international psychological associations. She said that her colleagues are now beginning to apply at a global level their expertise in areas such as conflict resolution, stress management, and mental health research.

As well as working to involve colleagues and to apply knowledge, Dr. Goldberg sees psychologists, along with other professionals, as playing a role in correcting the media-created ‘radical fringe’ image of people involved in the peace movement.

Ms. Ross discussed the growing visibility of nurses in the peace movement in the context of a changing image of nurses within the profession itself. She contrasted the traditionally subservient role played by nurses in the past with the lively questioning now going on. There is an organization of nurses for prevention of nuclear war in the United States and groups are now forming in cities across Canada.

Mr. Trocme briefly outlined the history of Social Workers for Peace. Social workers, like physicians and psychologists, are taking the nuclear issue to meetings of their professional organizations. He cited the immediate human costs of the arms race as one area on which his colleagues tend to focus. He presented some data from Ruth Sivard’s World Military and Social Expenditures Report and discussed some preliminary work on translating these figures into ones which are meaningful locally.

Mr. Trocme pointed out, for example, that the Canadian government has ordered 105 fighter planes at a cost of close to 20 million dollars each. The budget for a large city hospital is about 40 million dollars or two fighter planes. The budget for all the Toronto hostels for the homeless which shelter 2,300 people daily is 15 million dollars, which is less than one fighter plane.

After the presentations, the audience of about 50 addressed questions to the panel and participated in discussion groups. The topic of marching in public demonstrations received considerable attention, and the possibility of health professionals marching together under a single banner was raised. People seemed to feel that this could increase numbers and visibility. Some also saw maintaining a respectable image at such events as important;. however, it was agreed that humanness (and comfort) here as everywhere should take precedence over professionalism.

The people attending this meeting worked hard to cross over traditional professional boundaries (in some ways as dangerous as national ones) and to find ways to work effectively together. The forum seemed in some respects to signal the beginning of closer cooperation among certain professional peace groups in Toronto.

These groups (and other groups now joining with them) are working together to C(}-sponsor an event on November 19 at 7:30 p.m. at Friends’ House, 60 Lowther Avenue. The topic is Canada’s Strategies for Prevention of Nuclear War.

This November 19 event represents a conscious effort to keep the nuclear issue alive in post-election times. A representative from the External Affairs Department and two opposition critics will be there to respond to questions from the panel and the audience. Anyone interested in receiving further information may contact Nico Trocme at xxx-xxxx.