Monday, July 17, 2006
Bill Childs is on vacation this week. Filling in for him is author Andrea Peacock, telling the story of the W.R. Grace corporation’s tragic legacy in the small town of Libby, Montana. This is part two of seven.
Whenever asbestos reform legislation comes before Congress, the asbestos industry puts forward sick and dying people (or the relatives of sick and dying people) to complain about how their legal claims are held up while those of healthy people clog the system. While one’s heart aches for anyone touched by these diseases, to use these victims against one another is, at its core, a cynical, manipulative strategy, using pieces of truth to distort reality.
Because the fact is, anyone correctly diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease is most assuredly going to die of it. Given the propensity of asbestos manufacturers to declare themselves bankrupt, there's a good argument to be made that those so-called “healthy” people are wise to get their claims in while there’s still someone left to help with the medical bills.
An often-overlooked consequence of these diseases is that they rob their victims of life long before actual death. In Libby, they cast a pall on the future: in many families, children watch their parents die with the understanding that the future holds the same for them.
Today, I want to introduce you to Gayla Benefield. She’s imposingly sharp-tongued and quick-witted, liable to say exactly what’s on her mind at any given moment (she was once quoted in Missoula’s alternative weekly paper as saying “Fuck You” to then-Gov. Judy Martz). She’s a mother and a grandmother, but it was her role as daughter, caregiver to her dying parents, that turned her into a hero for people who no longer had the breath to speak for themselves. This is what it’s like to die of asbestosis. This is Gayla’s story. vatland_family.doc