Paul Zygielbaum is a 53 year-old malignant mesothelima survivor who was
diagnosed in early 2004
(l) Paul S. Zygielbaum, his wife Michelle and Punch Worthington at the
first ever Mesothelioma Advocacy and Medical Symposium, held in Las Vegas
on October 14-16, 2004. The symposium was sponsored by the Mesothelioma
Applied Research Foundation (www.marf.org)
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
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
Santa Rosa, CA