W6: What is Best for Refugees

In order to fully understand a person’s experience with healthcare in the United States you have to know their personal background and the culture that they are a part of. For Lia Lee, it is a complicated situation in many ways. Lia Lee was born in the United States but her parents were Hmong immigrants. When she began to have seizures attributed to epilepsy her parents were forced into the unfamiliar American healthcare system. There was a constant struggle between her parents and the doctors treating her condition. Why was this the case? According to Janelle Taylor, the Hmong people are “unwilling to bend to the will of others who are more powerful than themselves. (Taylor, 2003)” It is important to look back at the history of the Hmong people and their involvement in the proxy wars in Laos to understand why. The Hmong, under threat of assimilation, were forced to flee their homes and seek refuge in other countries. It was hard for the Hmong to trust outsiders because wherever they turned they risked losing their cultural identity. When the Lee’s came to the United States there was a similar feeling of distrust. This distrust led them to make decisions based on their cultural identity and question the authority of the American doctors. For Lia Lee, her family history and their distrust for others may have been worse for her than the epilepsy itself. Could this situation have been prevented or at least turned out differently for Lia? Taylor also proposes this question and mentions many recommendations to improve the experiences for refugees in the United States. Taylor suggest many options such as combining the traditional healing practices of one culture with the biomedical treatments they would receive in the U.S (Taylor, 2003). By doing so you would be able to treat a patient with all of the available resources and at the same time make the patient and family feel more comfortable. Additionally, Taylor mentions hiring interpreters as permanent members of the hospital staff (Taylor, 2003). These interpreters would have to be fluent in both the language and culture of those that they are providing the service. An interpreter would allow a physician to focus on the treatment of a patient while navigating cultural barriers. These recommendations would not only benefit refugees, but the growing number of immigrants and United States citizens of different cultures. “If we fix the healthcare system for refugees- make it understandable and accessible- we fix it for everyone. (McNeely, 2016)” This is the ultimate goal, to have a public healthcare system that is beneficial for everyone.
Clea A McNeely, “The Health of the Newest Americans: How US Public Health Systems Can Support Syrian Refugees” American Journal of Public Health. 2016 January: 106(1) 13-15, accessed August 10, 2016.

One thought on “W6: What is Best for Refugees

  1. After reading Fadiman’s book and going through this week’s material, I definitely have a better understanding of the unwillingness of the Hmong “to bend to the will of others who are more powerful than themselves”, as the source you used put it. The Lee’s being ordered to do something for their child that they themselves did not understand would, I imagine, be terrifying. Their refusal to ignore their culture in favor of the western medicinal methods was a method of not giving up their culture while also trying to do what was best for their daughter.

    To answer the question you posed of whether Lia’s situation could have turned out differently, I would have to say yes it definitely could have been different. In the end, it was not her parents’ refusal that caused her to have “the big one” (her biggest seizure that resulted in her vegetative state), but according to one doctor that Fadiman interviewed, it was sepsis that was caused through the use of western medicine (Fadiman, 1997). In this way, I would have to disagree with your statement that Lia’s “family history and their distrust for others may have been worse for her than the epilepsy itself”.

    The hiring of interpreters that you bring up is an issue that I also brought up in my post. I think that one of the biggest hurdles that needs to be overcome is the language barrier that occurs between western doctors and refugees that they come into contact with. Once this is overcome, a more cooperative relationship can be achieved because the amount of miscommunications and misunderstandings of cultural beliefs will be minimized.

Leave a Reply