Skip to main content

At McMaster Children's Hospital in Hamilton, Ont., a ward was re-named The Colonel Harland Sanders Inpatient Unit, in acknowledgment of a $1-million donation from the Colonel Harland Sanders Charitable Organization.

Naturally enough, it has been nicknamed the chicken wing.

Avian humour aside, there is reason to ponder the appropriateness of naming a hospital ward after the founding father of Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Childhood obesity is a serious, pressing health problem, so what message are we sending by renaming part of a pediatric hospital after a fast-food icon?

Worse yet, among those treated in The Colonel Harland Sanders Inpatient Unit are children with eating disorders. The irony is palpable, and the resigned acceptance tragic.

Harland David "Colonel" Sanders made buckets of money from his deep-fried delights and gave it away generously during his lifetime and after his death.

He had a particular affinity for Canada, where he lived for a time after selling off his U.S. operations, and several hospitals here have benefited from his generosity, including Trillium Health Care Centre in Mississauga, IWK Health Centre in Halifax and Stollery Children's Hospital in Edmonton, in addition to McMaster Children's Hospital.

There are those who will say that we should take the money and run and begone any self-righteous cluck-clucking about morals.

One could argue that having the KFC Colonel's name and photo in a hallway is rather innocuous and, if nothing else, less offensive than having a fast-food restaurant located within a hospital, as is the case, shamefully, at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. There, kids heading in for diabetes care, heart repairs and cancer treatment can feast on the fatty, salty offerings of Burger King.

The broader question that needs to be asked is: When and why did it become acceptable for public institutions to prostitute themselves in this manner?

It is true that our governments do not invest nearly enough in health infrastructure, and health-care institutions have turned to philanthropic donations to fill the gap.

But why is the tail wagging the dog? Are hospital fundraising foundations who genuflect at the junk-food altar not losing sight of the healing mission?

Is there no shame, no dignity and no self-respect left in our health-care system?

Advertising and junk food are omnipresent in society, often in a super-size combo. But can we not at least exempt pediatric hospitals from this commercial carpet bombing?

If not, where will it all end?

If we can have a Colonel Sanders wing, why not a KFC Children's Hospital? If Burger King is acceptable in the lobby, why not offer delivery to the rooms? And perhaps the scrubs of doctors and nurses should be adorned with the DQ and Wendy's logos to bring in a few bucks?

Does health care need to be served up with a side of fries?

Hospitals are there to deliver front-line sickness care - to the tune of $45.5-billion a year - but they should also be centres of health education and symbols of health promotion.

They should be setting an example for healthy living, not shilling for fast food, however indirectly.

In this country, we have banned tobacco sponsorship. There is no more DuMaurier Jazz Festival. And there will, mercifully, never be an Export 'A' Asthma Clinic. At some point, accepting donations - charitable or otherwise - from organizations associated with fast food needs to become as unacceptable as accepting dirty dollars from the tobacco industry.

Of course, no discussion of this issue would be complete without mentioning McDonald's.

Ronald McDonald House Charities of Canada has done a tremendous service to sick children and their parents by building a dozen Ronald McDonald Houses throughout the country, offering low-cost accommodation along with numerous family rooms in pediatric hospitals (including McMaster's Children's Hospital).

Again, intentions are good but, honestly, should kids with life-threatening illnesses (and their families) have to depend on burger-generated generosity for proper care?

Is the fast-food giant in such desperate need of good publicity that it has to get it off the backs of gravely ill youngsters?

Would McDonald's be any less generous if, instead of shameless branding, it renamed its homes Terry Fox House?

When you cut through the rhetoric, these naming opportunities, these associations with children's hospitals, are done for a single reason: to make fast food more palatable and bolster the bottom line of these corporations.

It's obvious why fast-food companies would want to be visible to children and their parents. But why would our public health system have any part of these chicken wings and clown rooms? Should we allow children, in particular, to be exploited in this manner? Sell our souls so we can spiff up a few rooms in our pediatric hospitals?

Bob Dylan, in his song Masters of War, framed the debate most eloquently:

Let me ask you one question

Is your money that good

Will it buy you forgiveness

Do you think that it could?

Report an error

Editorial code of conduct