Sir Bob Jones

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Bob Jones: Coroners should shut up and do their jobs

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Just because one woman dies after drinking too much Coca-Cola doesn't mean the rest of us are at risk.

Following Coroner Crear's report saying Coke should be added to an international list of addictive substances. Photo / Supplied
Following Coroner Crear's report saying Coke should be added to an international list of addictive substances. Photo / Supplied

What a damn silly suggestion by coroner David Crear following the death of 30-year-old Invercargill woman Natasha Harris who, having drunk up to 10 litres of Coca-Cola each day, unsurprisingly died of caffeine poisoning.

Mr Crear first correctly said that the soft drink company was not responsible for the woman's death. Unfortunately, like so often with coroners, he then went further with a totally absurd proposal, specifically that the Government should consider imposing caffeine and sugar warnings on soft drinks.

We read this sort of coroner guff frequently following unusual deaths in which, not content to simply do their job and officially state the cause of death, they instead ignore the extreme oddity of the circumstances and ascribe them to the community at large.

A circus elephant escapes, runs amok and tramples someone to death and the coroner will urge that the government makes us all build elephant-proof fences.

A 158kg woman rolls over in bed in a drunken stupor and crushes to death her ex-jockey husband. This actually happened in Tasmania in the late 1980s. Coroner Crear presumably would urge the government to ban jockeys and other small males sleeping with fat women, or alternatively, that fat women have a warning sign tattooed on their buttocks. In short, coroners too often fail to recognise freak accidents as simply that, namely freak.

Following Coroner Crear's report, Professor Doug Sellman of the National Addiction Centre chimed in, saying Coke should be added to an international list of addictive substances. What absolute tosh! Furthermore, I know what I'm talking about. Nearly 60 years ago, in my teens, one of the many factory jobs I had was in a Coca-Cola plant. The company's policy was that workers could drink as much Coke as they wanted. This was a calculated trade-off for, on the one hand, experience told management this meant they lost a potential customer for life, nevertheless on balance it was deemed better economics vis-a-vis staff consumption, for after two or three days of non-stop swilling, the thought of even a teaspoon of Coke made one feel ill. To this day, 56 years later, the sight of even a glass of Coke makes me queasy. Had Ms Harris drunk that much wine each day the result would have been the same and presumably the coroner would urge warning signs on wine bottles.

The fact is hundreds of millions of people drink Coke every day throughout the world. It's a sugary drink and too much will make you fat. So too will eating too many oranges. Everyone knows that and view both Coke and oranges as a treat to be indulged in with moderation. They certainly don't need Coroner Crear's molly-coddling warning stickers implying they lack judgment. Aside from that, if they wish to consume products to excess then that is their business and not a busybody coroner's affair. Why do coroners so frequently behave this way? I can only assume they suffer from Gareth-morganitus syndrome, namely an obsession with seeing their names in print.

At the next coroners' annual conference, instead of speeches they should have half a dozen ex-All Black forwards present to line them up, bend them over and render hourly bum-kicking sessions which hopefully will bring them to their senses.

Professor Sellman dug himself in deeper when he added, "growing neurobiological research is strongly indicating that some people can develop a compulsive habit ... similar to the same behavioural pattern observed in a drug addict". The operative word here is "some". Some people do all sorts of crazy things but extrapolating the actions of some to everyone shows abysmal judgment. Aside from that, addiction and obsessive behaviour are not always biologically sourced.

There are heaps of people with weird addictions, such as the aforementioned jockey's taste in women, which have a mental rather than physical root.

Older readers will remember George Wilder who delighted us all with his prison escapes. Who can forget his escape from a Taranaki prison when the army was called in from Waiouru to assist prison officers and police searching for him on the central plateau where he had been spotted. Because they occasionally ran across hikers, at day's end the searchers were shown a photo of George. "That bugger was here all day in the search party", they all shouted, but too late, George had slipped off into the night.

George wasn't publicly perceived as a villain, rather he was viewed as an addiction victim for his obsession with taking cars, riding about in them for half an hour then leaving them unharmed. He simply couldn't stop himself despite endless court warnings. Coroner Crear would doubtless blame the car manufacturers and Professor Sellman would want cars added to the addictive substances list.

In summary, Coca-Cola wasn't responsible for Ms Harris' death; she was.


Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

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