Message to Congress: Clean Up the Mess by Banning Asbestos, Funding Medical Research and Compensating the Seriously Injured.Paul Zygielbaum Jan. 7, 2005
Paul Zygielbaum is a 53 year-old malignant mesothelima survivor who was diagnosed in early 2004
Since the nation as a whole has benefited economically and militarily from the use of asbestos, fairness demands that the federal government share in providing compensation to victims of asbestos-related diseases, rather than placing the burden completely on the companies that profited from the illness and death of hundreds of thousands. And certainly attorneys should not be encouraged to abuse the tort system for their own enrichment, but resolving that issue is not significant in comparison to making sure that we properly address the health effects of asbestos.
The economics of this problem are not just about the government, the companies and the attorneys. The interests of asbestos disease patients are at the heart of this matter. Unfortunately, the expected limits on awards to patients from the proposed federal trust fund are unjustly low. Under one proposal, the most that would be awarded to any patient is $1 million. This is hardly just compensation for someone who can expect to lose 20-50 years of life, to have their earning capability curtailed, and to face hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills, perhaps without insurance coverage. Nor would it be just compensation to the spouse or children of a deceased patient. Worse yet, the proposed federal trust fund can be expected to run out of money long before the needs of patients, despite the low award limits. This trust fund legislation would again victimize those who have fallen victim to commercial and government interests.
We must also recognize the government's nearly complete abstinence from funding research into treatments and cures for these diseases and from curtailing their causes. America lost more World War II shipyard workers to asbestos diseases than we lost in combat in that entire conflict. Yet the Department of Defense sponsors no research in this area, although it does so for breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and other diseases only marginally related to warfare. The little research that is proceeding, mainly on private funding and small NIH grants, is making progress on treatment, but we could accelerate the results dramatically with an appropriate level of federal funding. The legislation under consideration would make only a token contribution.
Furthermore, efforts to pass a ban on asbestos have languished in Congress. Some 300,000 Americans suffer with asbestos diseases today, and that number is growing. Congress has even resisted legislation to establish an Asbestos Disease Awareness Day. Still, we continue to import and use asbestos, so we are condemning untold hundreds of thousands more to pain, debilitation and death.
So, the legislation that is brewing will not really clean up the asbestos mess. It will only clean up corporate balance sheets and political agendas. The real dirt will be swept under the rug. Certainly abuses of tort law should be corrected, but this cause should not provide an excuse to continue other injustices. The American people deserve a just and comprehensive solution to all aspects of the asbestos crisis, one that provides for adequate compensation to those suffering from disease, for an aggressive research program into treatments and cures, and for a ban on asbestos in order to protect future generations.
Paul S. Zygielbaum
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*** POSTED JANUARY 7, 2005 ***