Cartoons can often provide insights and make comments on society in a way that cannot be done with “real people”. My kids have “gotten into” South Park. Yes there are “gross bits” and foul language but I must say that some of their commentary on society is very accurate.

The episode that really tweaked my interest was the one on sex addiction. The CDC has determined that sex addiction is a looming epidemic possibly caused by global warming. Whilst it mainly affects rich celebrities, all children must be tested for signs of the disease.  Two of the elementary school kids (the central characters) are found by government health screening to be sex addicts and are sent to re-education class. There, they are in the company of such notables as Charlie Sheen, Michael Douglas, Tiger Woods and Bill Clinton.

As the class teacher tells them they are all there because they have been “caught”. This, of course is the cardinal sin rather than the behavior itself. A whole range of excuses is put up as to why they have this addiction. Eventually government research determines that the outbreak of sex addiction among rich successful males is due to the presence of an alien wizard.

Much like the boy in the tale of the emperor’s new clothes, in this case there are two dissenting voices. The first is on of the elementary school kids who tell the re-education teacher that the problem is one of personal responsibility.   The second is a SWAT team member sent to kill the alien wizard who opines that most men if rich, successful men and provided with the opportunity to have sex with different women, may do the same thing. He adds that we don’t need to condone the behavior but lets not pretend that we do not know what is going on.

Finally the alien wizard is killed, the addiction “leaves the body” of Bill and the others and the president announces that sex addiction has been defeated.

A ridiculous cartoon? Sadly the chain of events depicted, with the exception perhaps of the alien wizard is real. The reclassifying of bad behavior as illness is seen in the rise of sex addiction, gambling addiction, opposition defiance disorder and a host of other “diseases” requiring treatment. The ability of experts to overlook obvious causes and search for anything else is seen in the search for the “fat gene”.

The use of dubious screening programs to find epidemics is seen in the misuse of the PSA (prostate specific antigen) and cholesterol screening. Lowering the “normal” cut off level reclassifies many people with a disease they did not previously have. Many women have had unnecessary surgery after having been found to have “abnormalities” on screening mammograms that turned out to not have been abnormal at all .The South Park “sex addiction screen” found that over 90% of high school boys had “sex addiction” compared to less than 5% of preschoolers. Funny that!

Some people are not willing to control their behavior. This is seen in so called sex addiction and gambling addiction. These people have a problem and may need some assistance. They do not have an illness and it is not caused by anything other than their refusal to take responsibility for their actions.

When doctors and other “experts” pander to the irresponsible and create excuses for them and make up diseases to explain bad behavior we are creating problems. It immediately invites other people to do what they like and know it is not their fault. In turn by ignoring the real cause, we ignore the solution. Hence whilst supposedly trying to “help” these people, the end result is disempowerment and not dealing with the real problem.

We may not condone all the behaviors of other people. So long as it does not impinge on the rights of others, it is not even our business. However it is time we stopped making up medical excuses for “bad” behavior.