Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Litigious Americans Seek Compensation for Their Ailments

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Litigious Americans Seek Compensation for Their Ailments

Article excerpt

The family of a Virginia schoolteacher who died of cancer is suing the town in which she taught for failing to remove asbestos fibers from the school building.

Any competent scientist will tell you that asbestos insulation poses almost zero risk to human health (it can present a bigger problem if it is removed because the fibers then become airborne).

What are those family members thinking of? As someone who lost her mother to cancer, I understand the wrenching grief they are experiencing. But in seeking someone to blame and lusting to cash in on their tragedy, they are demonstrating two of the least lovely aspects of the modern American character.

We have long been a nation of Chicken Littles, quaking before each new environmental scare (Love Canal, Alar, Times Beach). The media dramatize and oversimplify these stories to create fear and boost ratings. Bombarded by scare stories, the populace becomes skittish and even phobic.

But beyond fear lies another explanation for this panicky reaction - greed. It has become a reflexive American response to try to plunge one's sticky little fingers into the nearest deep pocket. Thus, when the Food and Drug Administration began its baseless posturing about the safety of silicon breast implants, women surfaced from around the country claiming illnesses and injuries. Some, no doubt, simply jumped to the wrong conclusions and assumed, based on David Kessler's remarks, that their maladies could be attributed to their breast implants. But others probably saw the chance to fleece the implant manufacturers. That particular gravy train may slow a bit in light of a recent study showing absolutely no causal link between breast implants and disease.

Not even veterans, who put their lives on the line for their country, are immune to the lure of ready cash for symptoms. After returning from Saudi Arabia, a significant number of U.S. soldiers reported symptoms of a mysterious illness, quickly dubbed "Gulf War syndrome."

Congress was urged to recognize the "disease" and provide compensation to sufferers. Several members of Congress berated scientists who expressed skepticism, baying, "Tell that to these kids who are sick! …

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