What if a doctor, confronted with a suppurating sore or a cancerous growth, were to react in shock and anger, slap on a dressing and send the patient on his or her way?

Underneath the dressing the sore or the tumour would continue to grow and spread throughout the body and, eventually, lead to poisoning the whole organism, bringing serious dysfunction, extreme suffering and even fatal collapse.

Yet when it comes to the ills that afflict the body politic, that is exactly what society does.

It reacts with a knee-jerk, slaps on a dressing and expects the problems to go away.

But they don't. Hidden by the dressing and studiously ignored, they continue to fester and to worsen and society becomes more and more unhealthy.

We've been doing it for 40 years or more - trying, as cheaply as possible, to treat the symptoms of society's ills while the causes continue to degenerate until they become beyond treatment.

We persist with the band-aid philosophy, even though over the years it has been proved, over and over again, to have very little, or no, beneficial effect.

One of the latest examples is the suggestion by the Act list MP, David Garrett, that parents with a history of child abuse should be given a $5000 incentive to be sterilised.

No one, apart from a couple of far-right columnists, took Mr Garrett seriously - and even he seemed to resile from the idea rather quickly.

But the mere fact that he came up with such an idea is typical of the way our politicians deal with such issues.

Apart from the fact that even voluntary sterilisation under such circumstances is a violation of what little is left of the moral and ethical framework of a civilised democracy, what would it achieve?

It would simply be another attempt to shut the gate after the horse has bolted - something at which we have always been adept - for the sterilisation would come after the abuse.

It would be accepted by only a handful of men and women, if that, since even the mentally challenged - as child abusers invariably are - would shrink at being reduced to sterility, robbed of the inalienable human right to reproduce.

It would, in short, do nothing whatsoever to alleviate the shameful and chronic diseases of child abuse and neglect that afflict this country. So what then? Compulsory sterilisation? Anyone with any knowledge of the history of the last century knows where that leads.

I have a dear friend here in Rotorua, a man rich in years, in experience and wisdom, strong and enduring in his Christian faith, who has spent a lifetime serving his God, his family and his church.

We talk often and at great length of the things of God and the things of the world. He contends, and I agree, that voluntary sterilisation amounts to self-mutilation and renounces the natural law of self-preservation.

"Every person and every society," he says, "has rights, but equal and equivalent responsibilities go with them: the person to him or herself; to other people and to society; and the society to itself and its members."

In history, he says, cruel practices such as mutilation and sterilisation have been used by governments to maintain law and order.

But history also shows that not only did they not conform to the legitimate rights of the human person but they were neither necessary nor effective. On the contrary, they led to further practices that were even more degrading.

So, the conclusion we arrived at - and it applies not just to child abuse but to all the other social ills that blight our society - is that we should invest heavily in methods of correcting attitudes and behaviour.

Advances in modern science in matters of cause and effect - particularly in the field of psychology - have clearly demonstrated these methods to be effective and it is our social responsibility to put these proven practices in place.

And that is the guts of the matter - we have to begin treating the causes and not just the symptoms. The trouble is that it would take generations and cost a vast amount of money.

There would be no quick-fixes in such a policy and that is why it will probably never happen. Politicians depend on being seen to be doing something and know that, since the political term lasts a mere three years, failure will become evident too late to interfere with re-election.

Thus, even though hundreds of non-government organisations strive, often sacrificially, to make a difference in the lives of the afflicted, our prisons will continue to overflow, abuse and neglect will continue to blight the lives of thousands of our defenceless little ones and poverty will continue to increase in this land of plenty.

And, sooner rather than later, it will be too late to turn the tide.