Wednesday, September 29, 2021

The Ozone Layer and Other Environmental Success Stories

I recently saw a post on Facebook which mentioned the ozone layer from the perspective that concern over the ozone layer was just another false crisis that has been created by the environmental movement in the past 50 years.  In other words, the person who posted it was insinuating that our current concerns about climate change will eventually disappear just like ozone layer concerns did when first "discovered" in the 1980's.

Sadly, this person is one of those climate change deniers who prefers to post statements and opinions without actually researching the issue being attacked.  In that vein, I thought I would do some brief research on the most important environmental success stories of the past 50 years, since this past April marked the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day in 1971.

Within 15 minutes of research, I was able to find dozens of examples of how environmentalists have made Earth a safer place to live for all life, human as well as animal.  Since it was the comment on the ozone hole that inspired this post, I turned to info about that subject first. 

The hole in the ozone layer was first suspected in the early 1970's when measurements indicated that there had been a reduction of overall ozone in the atmosphere, and much larger annual spring time decreases in ozone in the stratosphere over the polar regions.  Eventually, the culprit was found to be the use of manufactured chemicals, especially manufactured halocarbon refrigerants.  Once the link had been confirmed, efforts to ban these chemicals eventually resulted in the signing of the Montreal Protocol in 1989, which phased out the manufacture and use of these ozone depleting chemicals. By the late 1990's, ozone levels had stabilized.  In 2019, NASA reported the lowest size of the ozone hole since its discovery, and conventional wisdom indicates that the ozone layer will continue to recover, eventually reaching pre-1980 levels this century.  

In other words, we don't hear about the hole in the ozone layer because the nations of the world listened to the scientists, joined together to enact a policy to address the issue, and appear to have been successful. I hesitate to wonder how many of those who saw the post referring to the ozone hole with a disparaging tone towards environmentalists, just clicked "Like", rather than actually investigating the subject. Perhaps some of them will see this post...

Other wonderful accomplishments of the environmental movement include:

The elimination of leaded gas to power our vehicles which has reduced the amount of lead in the average person 90%, and which also lead to removing lead from paint and other everyday items that caused lead related damage in our children.

The creation of the Clean Water Act which was inspired in part by the literal burning of a river in Ohio which had so much trash in it that it caught fire.

The creation of the Clean Air Act in reaction to the realization that acid rain was harming our national monuments, not to mention polluting our food chain through harm to plants and animals.  Of course, placing scrubbers, etc on towers that emitted toxic fumes into our atmosphere was fought tooth and nail by those responsible for harming Americans, but over time, acid rain, like the ozone hole, was addressed by understanding the science, and implementing regulations to reduce the pollutants causing the deadly issue.

The creation or the Superfund program to allot monies for the cleanup of toxic chemical sights, some from old military installations, but most from private companies who did not blink an eye when they decided to pollute the surrounding communities' land and ground water rather than reducing their profits by containing their chemical waste.  Of course, much of that damage was not actually illegal, at the time, but hey, we all know that businesses, when left unregulated, always do the right thing.

The creation of federal fuel standards which encourage car manufacturers to produce vehicles that improve their energy efficiency, which produces less air polluting particles.  These standards, again, originally resisted by the industry at the root of the pollution, have resulted in not only average miles per gallon almost 3 times that of 40 years ago, but the boom of electric vehicles.

The removal of DDT and other dangerous pesticides when the decline of bald eagle populations was linked to thin egg shells caused by exposure to DDT.  One would think that all patriots would know of this success story, the literal saving of our national symbol but I guess there are some patriots who love pesticides more than eagles.  In any case, in conjunction with the Endangered Species Act, and other wildlife friendly regulations, innumerable species have been saved from extinction, an extinction which in far too many cases was caused by the animal at the top of the food chain who pretends to worship the creator of all life but has become the most dangerous of all creations towards the rest.

And there are many more.  Which makes me wonder how an intelligent person believes that the environmental movement is, at best, an annoying bunch of tree huggers who get in the way of economic progress, at worse, anti-capitalists who hate America. Perhaps they think that the cliche, money buys happiness, is actually true, so anything that gets in the way of a good profit should be disdained.  Perhaps they have perfect health, and so have no empathy for all their fellow citizens who have been sickened by the callous actions of those who seek money about the well being of our planet, let alone their communities.  Perhaps they are just stuck in a paradigm that prevents them from seeing that without good health, a person, a family, a community, a nation, a planet, can not prosper.

Fortunately for people like those who post anti-environmental opinions without spending even a few minutes researching those issues, they have been helped by all the above mentioned environmental successes just as much as those in the movement who fought for those victories.  Perhaps some day, those who fight against policies that promote clean water, clean air, reduced use of pesticides, reduced illegal disposal of toxic waste, assistance to endangered species, and the fundamental idea that we should take care of the planet that our creator provided, will realize that they are on the wrong side of this debate. 


Thursday, September 23, 2021

My Time as a Juror 2

In my last post I summarized the 4 weeks I spent as a juror on a medical malpractice case.  As I said, it ended unsatisfactorily, as we deliberated for about 2 hours on a Friday afternoon (starting at 4:30), then were instructed to return the following Tuesday (Monday was Labor Day), only to receive a phone call from the judge's clerk informing us that the parties had settled.  My assumption is that since we were to decide first, guilty or not guilty for 2 medical professionals, then, if guilty, did their negligence result in the bad outcome for the baby (born with brain damage), then finally, how much money per year to award the family if we found either or both culpable, it may have been the defense which improved their offer, as it makes sense that the longer we deliberated, the deeper we would have penetrated into the money issues, which would have been good for the plaintiff.

Overall, my impressions, assuming the course of this case is similar to other medical malpractice cases which occur everyday in America's courts, of both our legal and medical systems in this area was not positive.  A few of the medical experts who testified seemed like the child's best interests was important, but most did not, especially those of the defense whose expert opinion blamed the child and mother in the guise of a poorly functioning placenta or some type of defect in the womb.  Obviously, those on one side disagreed completely with the experts on the other side, but in addition, a part of the defense's strategy seemed to present those radiologists who read the child's MRI at all the hospitals involved as not being very good at their jobs, even though they worked for the hospitals in question.  To me, they were saying that if you get an MRI at any of these places, don't expect it to be read correctly unless you can pay for some outside expert to do so.  And, by the way, those experts were paid in the range of $300-600 per hour.  

I was not swayed by the experts on the defense side, but can easily imagine that many of these cases are determined, not by the truth, but by the best hired guns' and their ability to put doubt in a juror's mind that there was negligence.  When one considers that hospitals and insurance companies might tend to have the most resources to get the best "experts", while the plaintiff needs to assume some kind of compensation will be forthcoming to afford their own high priced experts, it is also easy to imagine that many cases of negligence are found for the defense, even when some negligence or malpractice occurred.  

As for the lawyers, again, the truth of what happened did not seem of primary concern except for where a portion of the truth could be used to gain or avoid a large settlement.  So often, witnesses were not allowed to answer questions that to us, the jurors, might shed some light on the trial due to pretrial agreements and legal mumbo jumbo that allows lawyers to only seek the truth that reflects positively for their clients.  One of the most critical pieces of evidence, did the nurse and hospital staff know that a plan to limit pushing to 30 minutes, then perform a cesarean section was agreed to by the OB-Gyn practice and the patient, was never addressed, just alluded to in the 4 week long trial.  Perhaps a separate law suit had been or was intended to be filed against that OB-Gyn practice for both not informing the attendant nurse of the plan, and for not being followed by the attendant doctor, but the jury was never told one way or the other.  In our deliberations, we felt almost as one, that the patient's primary doctor seemed negligent in some manner, but he was not one of the defendants.  

Whether the plaintiff's lawyer filed an additional suit, or just filed against the wrong person, we don't know, but after 4 weeks of testimony, more than one of us on the jury felt that our time had been wasted.

My first big question is, assuming that this was an act of God, meaning the mother did not do anything that harmed the baby in the womb, and the doctor's did all they could do once the baby's heart tones dropped precipitously, who should pay for the life time care of this child?  We know that very few, if any parents, have the resources to shoulder the $75 to $100 thousand per year cost to care for the child.  (That is the range provided by the defense and plaintiff witnesses who were asked to provide an estimate for us to consider, should we find anyone liable).  Is there not some type of standard amount that is offered to a family who experiences such a devastating occurrence, or is suing someone, anyone, the only way to pay for such a misfortune?  If there is no such established guidelines, then should there be?  In the end, we the taxpayer, through various local, state and federal assistance programs, pay for some of the cost.  Could there not be a fund created that monetizes such horrible outcomes, so that a family does not need to wait 3 or more years (this baby's birth happened in 2018), to get some type of compensation?  I know that each side spent tens of thousands of dollars, at least, to prepare their cases and hire expert witnesses, so it is not like there is not money out there already designated for this situation.  

Perhaps there is, perhaps an offer was made and the plaintiff decided to sue for more?  Fine, but that kind of decision must preclude the idea that the standard offer is now off the table, come what may.  Perhaps it sounds cruel to talk about assigning values to a child's lifetime, or someone's ability to work, or a couple's chance to have more children, or any of the innumerable acts of God that occur which render a person handicapped or disabled, unable to attain what might be considered the normal chance of happiness and self-fulfillment, but if what I witnessed is the only form of recourse, it was not very effective.

There seems little doubt that there is plenty of money in America,  When we an afford to spend a billion dollars on a sports stadium, afford to pay top level athletes and businessmen tens of millions of dollars per year in salaries, when we spend without any real debate $700 billion per year on defense yet have had to pull out of two third world countries in my lifetime after having failed to meet our military objectives, when there is literally nothing that can't be bought since everything has a price, why it is so horrible to standardize compensation for those Americans who suffer horrible accidents or events through no fault of their own?  And why isn't there, not just a call, but a demand, that such funds exist, paid by contributions from the medical field (in lieu of or as part of their malpractice insurance), the hospitals (in similar fashion as just detailed for medical professionals), and even the taxpayers who would probably feel comfortable knowing that should an unexpected disaster occur to themselves or spouse or children, they wouldn't have to fight for help in handling the disaster, or testify 3 years after the fact, only to relive the pain and suffering of the original event.  

This is not to say that when true malpractice occurs, a lawsuit might be justified.  But, for me, I would rather that the suffering family or person not have to go through what I witnessed concerning the family in question, but rather a set amount be distributed, and, separately, should malpractice be involved, the medical professional be judged to establish if it was true negligence or just a mistake.  Perhaps then, the victim and victim's family is able to move on in a reasonable time frame, and the offending doctors, should they be found negligent, be removed from the profession.  

While there is no way to avoid bad outcomes, perhaps by addressing bad actors who are involved multiple times in bad outcomes and removing them from medical responsibility, we might avoid some of those outcomes.   


Monday, September 13, 2021

My time as a Juror

On August 9th, I traveled down to the county courthouse in West Chester to respond to a summons for jury duty.  My past experience with jury duty was not very memorable, in that I spent the day reading and checking my emails while sitting in a jury room.  I was not chosen to serve on a jury so I was excused at the end of the day.

In this case, I, along with about 100 other perspective jurors, were separated into two groups after being assigned a number. (I was 57).  Eventually, we were told that the people to the speaker's left who were chosen, would serve on a civil case which would last 2-3 weeks, while those on the right would serve on a criminal trial which would take about 2-3 days.  I was among those who wished to be on the other side.

After a few informational videos, my group was taken to court room 11.  We were then asked a series of questions by the lawyers, one for the plaintiff, two for the defense, to determine various possible reasons to be not chosen, such as familiarity with the lawyers, the potential witnesses, the family suing as well as the medical professionals being sued, and, whether a 2-3 week commitment would be an undo hardship.

As it turned out, those jurors who had vacations planned or needed to take a child to college, or were themselves going to college, were eliminated first.  Very few people with work reasons or even family care taking obligations were excused.

Finally, as the day ended, 12 of use were selected to be a part of the next process.

The next day we reported to the same court room to await the next group to be questioned and interviewed.  At first, the nine of us kept to ourselves, mostly playing games or reading on the phone, a few with books. But as time passed, we began to chat so that by the afternoon when the next batch of chosen jurors were brought in, we were rather boisterous.  It was kind of funny to see the faces of the newbies as they joined us, and in the next few hours.  A few of them seemed almost alarmed at our perceived lack of respect for our temporary home.  But when it became clear that the judge still wanted another few people from which to select the eventual jurors, and the recently arrived folks heard our story of being in their place yesterday, we began to meld into a bigger, shared situation, group.  

Eventually, a few more people joined us, swelling our number to 26, from which 16 would be selected, 12 jurors and 4 alternates.  We were then called to a separate room for questioning by the lawyers, then reassembled in the court room for the finale.  I was chosen, and assigned the unlucky (in this case) number seven.  By now it was pushing 4:00, so the judge sent us home, to return on day 3 to start hearing testimony.

The parking garage is across the street from the courthouse.  Everyday, we drove up to level 3, pulled up to the wooden gate which indicated jurors, and were told to park on level 7, the very top, exposed to the weather.  As time went by, there were occasional days when we were told to park on level 6, or the attendant said nothing.  On days with rain or strong sunshine, many of us parked on 6 to avoid the wrath of the elements.  Curiously, by the end, most of us parked on 6 out of belief that we were entitled to do so.

The general details of the trial is that a baby was born with a bad outcome, and the parents were suing one of the doctors and the attending nurse.  The plaintiff's lawyer was a bit of a showman, using white boards on an easel to make some of his points.  More than once we secretly planned to remove his boards from the court room, or at least make sure all his markers were dried up.  But he was also very good, alert to any fact, trivial or important, to turn into proof that the damage to the baby's brain was caused by a poorly executed medical procedure, or a missed sign that trouble was brewing.

Since the plaintiff went first, I must admit that it seemed like a slam dunk.  All kinds of signs were missed which may have resulted in an earlier birth which might have eliminated the extent of very low heart beat which lasted about 12 minutes, a situation which was directly caused by a placental abruption.  After a few extensive testimonies by defense "experts", and testimony from the defendants themselves, I was eager to hear what direction the defense would take, above and beyond the defendant's statements that everything was done that could be done, once the baby's heart tones crashed.

Unfortunately, it took the rest of week one, all of week two (minus Monday when there was a Covid scare among the jurors that prevented court to be held, but which turned out to be a false alarm), and half of week three.  To say that the process seemed interminable would be an understatement. In the meantime, like many of my co-jurors, I was working most days on the weekend, and driving from West Chester to work in Wyomissing to arrive around 6:00 then closing the store at 10:00, then home, then back to court the next day again.  While I only did double duty twice each week, I only had off from both court and work twice from August 9 to September 3.  It was a long month, no less so because sitting in a court room listening to testimony that ranged from interesting to boring to extremely repetitive on pseudo comfortable chairs, was no picnic for my mind, or back.

Finally, in week four, after more than 3 hours of final statements by the various lawyers which summed up the same points we had just heard for 3 and a half weeks, the judge charged us with the law and our responsibilities and sent us to deliberate at 4:30 on Friday, 9/3.  We were quick to find the doctor innocent of negligence.  This, to me, was a very good measurement of how seriously we all took our jobs as jurors, as I  am sure that many of them thought as I did, in the beginning, that everyone messed up.  But we listened to all the testimony, well at least most of it as there were a few times when various jurors slipped off to sleepyland, and did not come to any conclusions before hand.

With a civil case, there only has to be 10 of 12 jurors to make a decision, it does not have to be unanimous. The defense's experts focused on after the fact analysis of MRI's done of the baby's brain to make the claim that the child had a problem in utero which caused the bad outcome, and that the mother's placenta may not have been as nourishing as it could have been.  I was not convinced of these explanation in light of all the doctor's reports at the time of delivery that stated that the damage was caused at birth, so when we voted 8 to 4 for the nurse in question, I was one of the four.  

After 2 hours of deliberations, and another vote which tallied at 9 to 3, the judge called us back to the court room and asked us if we were close to a decision.  Our initial response was yes seeing that we were one vote shy of the necessary 10 to acquit, but when he asked if we could finish in 15 minutes, we all knew that wasn't going to happen.  At that point, he told is to go home and come back on Tuesday (Monday being Labor Day).  Needless to say, no one left the court room happy in the knowledge that we would start a 5th week in court.  

Out in the parking lot, a few of use were chatting.  One of the 3 had become upset during the last 30 minutes of deliberation, even going so far as to say, "OK, I change my vote, let's go home".  Again, to our collective credit, we did not allow her to do that, even though there was not one person in that room who didn't want the ordeal to end.  As we talked, I tried to make my fellow juror realize that I was also one of the 3, that I certainly wanted to not come back next week, but I wasn't going to change my vote, that I truly felt that the nurse missed some signs, and that I certainly wasn't going to cave in just to be free.  She seemed less upset by my words and those of another juror who was part of the nine.

When we parted, I called work to tell them I would not be coming in at that point, knowing I wouldn't arrive until at least 8:00, and while I was chatting, my phone rang, unknown number.  After hanging up, I dialed my voice mail to see if a message had been left.  And there was:

This is the assistant to the judge for whom you are a juror.  The parties settled, so you don't have to come back next week, you are excused.

It was over! Yet in an extremely unsatisfactory manner.  After 4 weeks of repetition, at least a dozen white boards, two video testimonies, 2 testimonies that were read, various experts that claimed that everyone involved in the case was wrong, and that every expert on the other side was only offering an opinion because they were being paid to do so, after an agonizing 20 minutes where the child (now 3 years old) appeared in court for us to see her limited abilities, and heart wrenching testimony from the mother who feels that her child does not know that she is her mother, after all that and more, we were not asked to render a decision!

Was it a colossal waste of time? It is hard not to say yes.  Did I learn some disappointing things about our medical professionals, about how medical malpractice cases are conducted, about how the legal process involves testimony and topics that are not discussed, and finally about whether the whole point of the trial was to find the truth?  I will comment on some of those questions in my next post, but it is certainly clear that the truth was not the goal of the trial for which I served as juror this past month.