Monday, August 28, 2006

Preserve Access to the Courts
By Amber Sexton

When I was 15-years-old, I became paralyzed from the waist down. I was a rear passenger in my mother’s car, when it was involved in a frontal collision. I was wearing a lap-only seatbelt, the only restraining device available to me, when the crash forced my body forward and the burden of the lap belt nearly cut my body in half. What we later learned was that since 1966, auto companies knew that rear lap belts were unsafe yet continued to put them in cars, like my mother’s.

I am now in a wheelchair. In order for me to rebuild my life, my family went to court and I received compensation for my injury that provided me the opportunity to live in an accessible home, pay for uninsured medical expenses, and go to college. I was able to complete college and find gainful employment. And I am now proud to say that this spring, I was crowned Ms. Wheelchair Illinois, a feat I never could have accomplished without our court case, which helped me recover and set me on a new road in life.

This month, I will go to Little Rock to compete in a pageant to become Ms. Wheelchair America. At Little Rock, I will stress the importance of providing injured people with the resources needed to improve their quality of life.

It is disheartening, however, to know that there are forces in Illinois that are working against this goal. Large corporations are funding billboards and newspaper advertisements attacking those who use the court system. These special interests are pushing for laws that would make it more difficult for sick and injured people to obtain just compensation.

Making it harder to bring legitimate lawsuits like mine would not only be devastating to those who need fair compensation to rebuild their lives after a catastrophic injury, it would also limit accountability for those responsible for causing damage and harm.

Take my case, for instance. The automobile industry has been aware that lap belts may result in abdominal injuries since the 1960s. For that reason, most cars are equipped with three-point seatbelts that include shoulder straps, which are more effective in preventing injuries. The manufacturer ignored these basic safety precautions in order to save $12 per car.
Today, three-point belts are required in all rear seating positions. The change was made partly because of lawsuits like mine.

Over the last several years, we have witnessed a disgraceful effort to subvert Illinois’ civil justice system with misleading rhetoric about "out of control" judges and juries, resulting in cruel proposals that would cheat the sick and injured. They would also allow corporations to escape financial responsibility for causing injuries and death.

The civil justice system gave me an opportunity to succeed in life. It is a system that empowered me to help others with disabilities and put me on a path to becoming the next Ms. Wheelchair America. Access to this system should be preserved and expanded so that corporations that commit wrongdoing pay for the harm and damage they cause.
Sexton, age 26, is Ms. Wheelchair Illinois.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

‘Right of Refusal’ Policy Hurts Women, Pharmacists Alike
By Teresa D. Avery, RPh.

As a pharmacist, I am deeply concerned by the Board of Pharmacy’s proposal to allow pharmacists to decline to sell prescriptions based on their personal beliefs. The proposal put forward by the Washington State Pharmacy Association and the Board of Pharmacy does not, in my opinion, represent the views of the majority of pharmacists who practice in our state. Fortunately, the board is now reconsidering the proposal, but advocates for women’s rights remain concerned about what the board may propose next.

Pharmacists are the most accessible healthcare professionals in the community, often giving free health counseling to anyone who approaches our counter. We have a long tradition of non-discriminatory practice and, I believe, that is why we rank among the nation’s most trusted professionals year after year. The public perception has always been that pharmacists have our patients’ health and welfare as our highest priority, even above our own personal beliefs.
However, a few in the profession are promoting a specific political agenda. They are attempting to politicize the profession, creating a culture of fear among pharmacists and patients alike and polarizing our religious communities. The issue of right of refusal is proving to be another area where those with specific and openly conservative views are attempting to change policy in our state.

Some argue that the proposed "right" of refusal is about a pharmacist’s individual moral or religious beliefs and the right to express them. Yet, the Board of Pharmacy’s own Mission Statement reads: "WSBP leads in creating a climate of patient focused practice of pharmacy." So whose rights are really the priority -- the patients’ rights or the few conservative pharmacists’ rights? Isn’t this proposal just a way of legitimizing social extremism by a few pharmacists while skirting the real issue at hand?

The bottom line is that this began as an issue pertaining to the reproductive rights of women, and it is coming to the forefront now because of the agenda promoted by a small and vocal group of people who purposely muddle faith and politics. It is another manifestation of the grassroots campaign that is being waged in cities and states all across the country, and it is a blatant attempt to limit access to legally available methods of birth control. However, all patients should consider that the Board’s proposal would allow pharmacists to refuse any prescription, for any personal reason. I do not believe that the religious beliefs of one person should trump the rights of another in this country.

I never dreamed that the principles of equal access to care for all that I learned at the University of Washington School of Pharmacy 16 years ago regarding the Pharmacist’s Code of Ethics would be so boldly threatened. I am deeply saddened that the progressive standards of pharmacy care in Washington are being challenged by this conservative agenda.
Despite the Board’s proposal and the Washington State Pharmacy Association’s present position, I believe that the majority of pharmacists in this state are fair minded and do not appreciate the profession being politicized in this manner. I believe that most of us are able to separate personal beliefs from professional obligations to our patients. Most of my colleagues understand and respect the long tradition pharmacists uphold. Being unbiased, non-judgmental and always respecting the fact that our patients are entitled to make choices that affect their lives even though others may not agree is the hallmark of our profession.

I strongly urge the Board to maintain the leadership role that Washington has always held in our profession by protecting the health and well-being of people, especially women, of our state; by ensuring that any patient can go into any pharmacy in Washington State and have his or her valid, legal prescription filled.
Avery is the manager of Cabrini Medical Tower Pharmacy in Seattle.