Commentary: Air travel safety trumps dignity in my book

The Miami HeraldNovember 23, 2010 

They wheeled me into a hospital room outfitted for endoscopic probes and parked my gurney under a video screen. While a medical tech got ready to jam a fiber optic camera into my lower orifice, I noticed the screen still contained the frozen image of the previous patient.

Or rather the previous patient's ample white buttocks.

Just before my anesthetic swoon, it occurred to me that the globose image the next patient sees on that screen will belong to me.

No matter. Dignity and colonoscopies just aren't compatible. The various humiliations associated with the search for suspect polyps -- the super-laxative prep, the backless hospital gowns, the gabble of docs, nurses and technicians gathered around my unconscious self's naked bottom -- hardly matter when it comes to cancer.

Same with bombs.

Dignity and the prospect of bombs aren't compatible either. Yet we're faced with protesters -- indignant over full-body airport scanners -- planning to overwhelm the nation's already overwhelmed airport security system on Wednesday.

The day before Thanksgiving, even without crazies clogging the works, makes for the busiest, most chaotic flying day of the year -- a perfect time for self-important prudes to sabotage everyone else's travel plans.

Bothered that the new high tech scanners can peer beneath their clothing, the protesters are urging fellow travelers to ``opt out'' and demand that Transportation Security Administration workers pat them down instead. The rationale behind ``We Won't Fly. Act Now. Travel With Dignity,'' according to the outfit's website, goes like this: The new TSA scanners ``allow strip searches to be conducted on a wide-scale level. That they are automated and mechanical in no way changes the fact that when a government agent looks beneath your clothing you are being strip searched.''

A scan takes about 10 seconds. Pat downs are measured in minutes. Enough travelers opt-out, airports descend into a tangled, howling, angry morass.

Some of the opt-outters worry about the health implications of scanner radiation, although the TSA offers a long list of independent researchers, including scientists from the Sandia National Laboratories and Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, who found ``potential health risks are minuscule.''

Mostly, this is about a purported loss of dignity when scanners reveal intimate curves and bodily bulges. (Some of us might find full-body pat downs more discomfitting than a full-body scan.)

To read the complete column, visit www.miamiherald.com.

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