Dying with Dignity

October 24, 2014

My old friend, Jack Kevorkian, wanted nothing more than to give people the right not to suffer from debilitating diseases and die in dignity.

Today, Jack would be happy to see that five states, including Washington and Oregon, have made it possible for people to do just that.

Brittany Maynard is among those benefitting from Oregon’s law.

She is 29 and she is dying from a terrible brain tumor that will soon take her life. Her death will be slow and frightful as the tumor inside her brain continues to grow.

When she found out how awful the transition from life to death would be, she opted to control her own ending. Even if, in the end, she doesn’t do it, she feels better having the choice. She now plans to die two days after her husband’s birthday on Nov. 1.

“There is not a cell in my body that is suicidal,” said Maynard in an interview with People Magazine.

In her last month of life Maynard is choosing to advocate for those who also want to die with dignity. She is not saying anything new – Jack and I had the same argument nearly 20 years ago. Call it what you will, but having the right to die is a choice that people should be permitted, not the government! I know that. He knew that. And so does Brittany.

Thankfully Brittany was able to move to Oregon with her family in order to make her transition less painful, but she is concerned that others don’t have the resources to take similar action. Only five states have laws on the books that make it possible for people to die with dignity, which leaves 45 states without options for people like Brittany.

Jack and I wanted everyone to have the option to decide how much they had to suffer – not the government.

It’s not suicide, it’s basic human dignity and a God-given right.

Medical Malpractice and Cerebral Palsy

October 24, 2014

Cerebral palsy is an often misunderstood medical term which refers to a devastating and permanent disorder that causes physical disabilities. Cerebral palsy can be the result of a damaged motor control center in the brain. It can occur before, during or quickly after birth. The motor control center in the brain is responsible for a person’s movement. If it is damaged, it can leave a person unable to walk or speak while her cognitive ability remains almost fully intact.

If other areas of a baby’s brain are damaged, the damage can have a severe impact on intellectual function.

When cerebral palsy occurs at birth it is often the result of the negligence of the doctor or hospital that delivered the newborn. The negligence can be as simple as the doctor not ordering a caesarian section, or a failure to notice and treat fetal distress.

When this occurs it is malpractice, not simple error.

A newborn needing oxygen after birth, needing an MRI or presenting signs of jaundice that don’t resolve quickly after birth; may all be signs of cerebral palsy. In some cases there may be no signs at all after birth and appear weeks or months later.

Attorneys such as myself are often called “ambulance chasers.” It is said that we seek out hospitals, doctors and nurses and exploit them for making “minor” mistakes. Why can’t we accept that medical professionals are human, too? Well, I do. People expect me to be responsible for my mistakes, we expect people to be held accountable, don’t we?

I don’t sue for minor mistakes. I sue for big errors that ruin people’s lives.

In 2011 we won a $114.5 million dollar verdict for a 15-year-old girl who will never be able to speak or walk because of the negligence and trauma that occurred at William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Mich. If it weren’t for the negligence of her doctors and nurses then she would be graduating from college in 2018 and of starting a career.

She is just one of many victories I sought justice for.  On her behalf, on your behalf, I fight — and I am not afraid to win.

The War Machine

September 19, 2014

With Muslim extremists going medieval on journalists, the usual team of war-mongers in the Senate (you know McCain, Graham, Feinstein) are being joined by the same herd of lemmings that rushed into Iraq last time and are calling for another war (our third).

You would think that after two wars, a 10-year occupation, $3 trillion, thousands of dead Americans and tens of thousands of shattered U.S. families, we would realize the futility. But war is not a geo-political means to an end for this America, it is simply good business. With Afghanistan winding down we need another war and the primitives in Iraq have served up a heaping helping of self-righteous justification.

It’s not that I am not outraged by the savage nature of ISIS, but we are a bit like the abusive parents of a psychopath: we created ISIS. When we destroyed the fragile social structures holding the old Iraq together after the invasion and deliberately set the religious sects against each other, we created a fertile Petri dish for ISIS and their predecessors. When Obama dithered, and Congress did what they always do (nothing) and refused to fund “moderate” Syrian opposition, the door was opened. Add to the mix plenty of funding to ISIS from our “allies,” the Saudis and Qataris, and viola!

Every time we bomb Muslims we create 10 more enemies. Every time we allow them to work out their religious differences there are less. It is as simple as this: when we are there, they shoot at us. When we are not there, they shoot at each other. The journalists were killed after we bombed ISIS. Now the Saudis are begging for us to bomb away the problem they have been funding, and our interests are suddenly aligned with regimes we have already labeled as enemies, namely Assad and Iran.

After 10 years in Iraq it is as chaotic as it was after we created the chaos. After 11 years in Afghanistan, it is as chaotic as it ever was since Alexander the Great. Would we lose more American lives if we invade Iraq/Syria and occupy them for another 10 years, or if we let them work out their own issues? But it’s not really about Iraq, Iran, Syria or any “moral obligation,” is it?

It’s about making money with war.

Tolerance Taxed

September 19, 2014

Last weekend there was a conference of Muslims in Detroit, and I was curious to hear what they had to say about … beheading.

It’s not like American Muslims don’t have enough to worry about or more important issues to discuss. The growing incidence of hate crimes, a government escalating civil rights violations, and a popular culture increasingly tolerant of hate speech directed at them … So why bother with condemning a crime committed in Iraq? Because the savage beheading of a human being has become the image representing the “religion of peace.”

The news from overseas is a disaster not only for the Muslims in the Middle East. The violence between sects has gone beyond sectarian to something more accurately described as religious genocide. The violence and hatred between Muslims is almost … well, Christian in scale. So the tepid response of the Muslim leadership to the beheading of their captives (American, Syrian, Christian, Muslim – it doesn’t matter) is disappointing at best.

Shi’a, Sunni – it doesn’t matter. Iran has beheaded as many “criminals” as Sunni countries such as Saudi Arabia and UAE. I always felt that Christians were the most brutal of all religions. I am not so sure now that it matters. Maybe the Muslims are only a few centuries behind the Christians with internecine genocide. Is there an inherent quality in ANY religion to evoke hatred and violence? In the words of Lennon: “Imagine …”

Trial Lawyers

September 19, 2014

Some Republicans justify their votes against basic civil rights such as equal pay for women, or attempts to weaken protections against the violations of due process rights by the police, by saying that they don’t want to “line the pockets of trial lawyers.”

If corporations did not discriminate against women, then there would be no lawsuits … period. The case without any evidence would get thrown out in an instant. Discrimination exists when the perpetrators can get away with it. Without the ability of an individual to file a lawsuit, no corporation would have an incentive to follow the law. Republicans want you to believe that corporations will voluntarily not discriminate anymore, and continually refuse to allow the ability of anyone to discover if any discrimination exists.

The attempts to weaken protections against abuses by the police or other government abuses are even more dangerous, because they directly challenge the lives of citizens. Those protections are essential in any democracy. In an era of Congressionally-sanctioned spying on every American for virtually any reason, the only person standing between you and being falsely imprisoned or even illegally killed by the police are trial lawyers.

The criticisms of “trial lawyers” is a popular rhetorical tool of the Right Wing, but civil lawsuits are the last resort of the average citizen against the powerful. The GM recalls of their cars with fatal defects are another example of what we do as trial lawyers. GM knew about the defects years ago – before many people were killed because of them. GM did nothing to protect lives. They protected themselves, or rather their profits. The government agency charged with identifying those safety hazards didn’t discover the defects because (apparently) the deaths of dozens of people were below their radar (so much for over-regulation). Thanks to trial lawyers, lives will be saved and justice can be done for the victims. It is a textbook example of how trial lawyers protect society and your rights. This offends Republicans because it undermines the power of the rich and the powerful.

As a person who has devoted his life to helping defend the rights of individuals against the wealthy and powerful, I understand why the right wing attacks on my profession. We are the last resort of the people when the powerful victimize. That’s why we are called the “people’s warriors.”

Labor in America

September 9, 2014

There was a recent expose on children working in the tobacco fields of the New South in the New York Times yesterday.

Numerous examples of children as young as 10 years old working 10 to 12 hours a day for less than minimum wages have been documented, many of them getting poisoned by the exposure to nicotine. It evokes the images of the antebellum South, but in reality they are a sign of the future to come. They are not an isolated instance of abuse. In fact, they are the new face of labor in America.

All across the Country, including the “Right to Work” Michigan, right wing legislatures are systematically reversing over 100 years of hard-earned labor rights. Right wing politicians, elected through the financial largesse of billionaires such as the Koch brothers are not only attempting to destroy labor unions, they are even attacking basic labor rights such as child labor laws.

So this fall, when you vote, remember the face of those child workers getting those jobs created by your Republican governor and Republican legislators. Snyder and Lynn-Land will put your children to work …

Why Ferguson Fails

August 20, 2014

The media has been on the idea that Ferguson, Mo. is a “war zone.”

Most of the commentary has been on the theme that the police presence there is exemplary of how policing has changed in America. In the past, policing involved patrolling, i.e. knowing the neighborhood and interacting with residents. In the last decade, policing has become increasingly militarized, not only in terms of equipment but more importantly, in terms of attitude.

Police now often have the view that force can manage chaos … force can restore calm. In Ferguson, the premise has been proven wrong. The use of military force in the form of machine guns, armored personnel carriers, and use of chemical agents to harm people has proven to escalate the violence. 

Missouri Governor Nixon said today that he was worried because the police were “stressed.” How about the people they were firing on? How about the people confronted by police pointing machine guns and seeing armored vehicles parked in front of them? Or knowing that police snipers were positioned on their rooftops? Are they stressed? The comments of the governor reveal a bias that is pervasive in the law enforcement community. 

It strikes me that the idea that the use of overwhelming force can calm tensions has been proven so wrong in history that what is happening now is so predictable. Overwhelming force was used against Gandhi in India, and protesters in Selma, Ala. years ago. It didn’t work. Overwhelming force was used in Iraq. It obviously didn’t work.

The only remedy for violence caused by injustice is justice. The only cure for the disease of violence is certainly not overwhelming violence.

What if the protest march in Ferguson last night was led by state police protecting protestors? Do you think the violence would have been worse? This is a time when I think we miss the presence and wisdom of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.   


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