Lawsuits, hormones and celebrity pushers

Readers respond to articles about parents suing teachers, hormone replacement therapy and stars shilling for pharmaceuticals and medical procedures.

By Salon Staff
Published July 19, 2002 7:00PM (EDT)

[Read "L is for Lawsuit"]

Over a period of 34 years I've taught every grade level from K through 12, and students from every socioeconomic class from the very privileged and wealthy to the very poor. It has been my experience at every school that I've been a teacher that each graduating senior class has students in the top third of the class who have done very well, students in the middle third who tend to be average and students in the bottom third who manage to get by. All of these students have the same teachers, the same facilities, the same curriculum etc., but vary widely in their academic studies.

The one common factor that I've found in the top third is parental involvement in the student's education. While socioeconomic status is a factor, it is not a limiting factor. Students in the top third are from various backgrounds, broken homes, single parent homes, intact families, etc., but all have parents who have supported the efforts of their teachers.

Unfortunately, it has also been my experience that the lower third of a given graduating class also has in common unengaged parents. Would it not be fair that if a failing student's parents can sue the school system/teacher for their child's failure, in turn shouldn't the school system be allowed to sue parents for lack of interest or support in their child's education?

-- Craig Rhodes

"L is for Lawsuit" tells of overzealous parents hounding school systems because they're unhappy with their kids' results.

The litigious methods may be different, but this isn't entirely a new problem: Here in New Hampshire, one dairy farmer told a local newspaper that his grandfather was once so mad at the treatment of his son that he showed up at school and chased the principal around the building with a pitchfork.

Now that's parental advocacy.

-- David Brooks

Janelle Brown's article ignores the fact that lawsuits play an important role in protecting our nation's students. History is replete with examples of children who have been beaten or sexually abused while in school. Far from frivolous, suits against teachers, principals and school districts not only uncover information about abusive teachers but also force school officials to take responsibility for allowing such conduct to continue. Were it not for an individual's right to seek legal redress, students around the country would continue to be victimized by the very authority figures entrusted with their health and safety.

-- Emily Gottlieb
Deputy director
Center for Justice and Democracy, New York

Teachers and lawyers -- a dangerous combination for all concerned. Perhaps most dangerous for the students. I've known about the increasing problem of parents suing teachers for ridiculous reasons for a while, so I agree that the situation described in the article is hardly an isolated case, but it still disgusts me, both as a parent and as a husband of a teacher.

To me, it comes down to the parents (who usually have plenty of warning that their children are doing poorly) wanting to find someone to blame for their child's failure. Anyone, of course, but themselves. The lawyers are only too happy to oblige (and make a little money and/or prestige in the process), and administrators tend to cave to threats quite quickly, rather than back their teachers.

I'm not saying teachers are always blameless in these situations, but I doubt that lawsuits are necessary, or even helpful, in improving the education of the kids in question. It gets their grades better in a hurry, but does it improve upon what they've actually learned? Not likely.

I've a solution of my own -- to the parents of failing children who want so desperately to find someone to blame for their kids' difficulty: Parents, sue thyselves.

-- Rich Stoehr

[Read "Death by Hormones"]

With so much conflicting information, what's a 50-year-old menopausal woman to do to preserve her health? In the days since the announcement of the suspension of the HRT study, I have read comments from the experts on both sides of the argument. On one side are the well-meaning yet shocked physicians who have been recommending this regimen to their patients, despite little proof that it actually worked; on the other side are the activist groups who bemoan the big, bad pharmaceutical companies.

Left out of the discussion is the fact that there are millions of women for whom this is not a political argument. They are suffering very real physical symptoms and looking for solutions. They need more than "I told you so" from advocacy groups, and "Oops, we had no idea" from the medical community. For millions of women this is about quality of life.

Will we every get a real discussion about this issue and the serious matter of maintaining good health as we age?

-- Eleanor Brown

Trisha Posner's story doesn't feature a single quote by a woman whose hot flashes have been halted by HRT. Trust me, if you've ever stood in front of a roomful of people with sweat running down your face, you don't find HRT all that inconsequential or unnecessary. What does outrage me is a bunch of male doctors pulling the plug on their study and declaring, "It's not worth the risk." They haven't experienced the physical and mental debilitation of hot flashes either. Mine were back-to-back, accompanied by heart palpitations and mental blankness. HRT had not only eliminated them, but it has really helped with the memory problems that accompany menopause.

Must we always run from one extreme to the other? Yes, hormone therapy has drawbacks, but it works.

-- R.T. Both

OK, now that you've printed the obligatory baby-boomer hand-wringer of a story by someone flogging her anti-estrogen books, how about some balanced reporting? There are plenty of men and women out there, doctors and patients, who observe and/or experience the real benefits of HRT. Your anti-HRT shill fails to mention the benefits that were mentioned in the Journal of the American Medical Association article and found in the study, such as lower rates of colon cancer and fewer hip fractures, and ignores its statements about the extremely small number of women actually negatively affected by HRT.

I know I'm going to die of something someday; I want to stay sexually active till then, and it's difficult or impossible without HRT. That's the real truth that no one wants to admit. Mother Nature, that unhelpful old bitch, castrates women "naturally," long before the end of life, and yet now it seems that we're going to go back 50 years and be told to just grin and bear it (Oh, and exercise and avoiding caffeine will make everything OK, sweetie!). Viagra is A-OK with the media and medical hysteria mongers, although it has sudden death as one of its potential side effects. Why is preserving men's sexual functioning approved of no matter what the cost? Why aren't castrated men told to think positive thoughts and wear loose clothes?

Lots of things are natural; death, disease, labor pains, impotence and menopause among them. Why is it important to overcome the discomforts of all but the last? This is a feminist issue, folks.

-- Susan Young

[Read "Celebrity Pill Pushers"]

Something is wrong with the media when talk-show hosts or news programs don't seem to feel responsible enough to research and then reveal these celebrities' financial stakes in their position. Regarding obesity surgery, Carnie Wilson's giddy representation of the glories of weight loss hides a host of unpleasant and dangerous effects. I believe that in a few cases, where inpatient eating disorder treatment has already been tried and there are serious health problems involved, such surgery may be a necessary last resort. But many women are having these surgeries for purely cosmetic reasons, sometimes with disastrous results.

An acquaintance of mine actually gained 40 pounds to qualify for her insurance plan to pay for gastric bypass surgery. She ended up in a coma for 10 days. She could have lost her life. Her goal was purely cosmetic, as she freely admitted. It is always best to lose weight slowly on a healthy regimen involving exercise and good eating. Any doctor will admit this -- even while they are pushing these surgeries. I never hear Ms. Wilson say this in her presentations.

I think it is interesting that instead of finding an effective treatment for the eating disorder, we instead are choosing to mutilate a healthy, functioning organ to achieve weight loss. Like the earlier treatment of wiring a jaw shut, it never solves the actual cause of weight gain. The patient will forever have a compromised digestive system that no longer can absorb all of the nutrients of the food he or she eats. The solution: Just take vitamins!

Am I alone in seeing something very wrong with this picture?

I should add my own bias: I was advised by my cardiologist to have this surgery. I have so far lost 45 pounds on my own, refusing to risk my life and health with this procedure.

-- Tapati Sarasvati

I can't see how you could lump Carnie Wilson into your pill-pusher attack. At 300 pounds, Carnie was morbidly obese, which means simply that she would probably develop an illness and possibly die from complication relating to her obesity. This is not pain, discomfort or even nonlethal mental defect.

I have had a weight loss surgery, a gastric banding, which is neither permanent nor as drastic as Carnie's. Nonetheless, it has saved my life. Not improved my life, or helped my life, because without this surgery, I would be dead very soon.

You can't blame a person who chronically falls from airplanes for plugging parachutes, even if she's getting kickbacks from the silk trade.

-- Philip Berne

Your story makes a good point about the pervasiveness of advertising in the drug industry. However, I'm curious to find out if you have a better idea about how drug companies should go about their business? Perhaps they should not advertise, not try so hard to sell drugs? Less of a given drug is sold, which leads to a higher cost of manufacture so even fewer people who would benefit can afford it. Or maybe we can find a better way to pay for the drugs. Maybe instead of a corporate "free market" approach, we should use federal funding? I am willing to give up 70 percent of my income to support comprehensive social services for the rest of the population, but are you?

Or maybe we shouldn't bother making all of these treatments in the first place? Maybe we were better off 50, 100, or 200 years ago when leeches and "bleeding" were the height of medicine?

Ask someone who's been confined to a wheelchair and is in constant, agonizing pain from rheumatoid arthritis, or someone whose mother just died of cancer. Ask them what they think of some celebrity advertising for a drug company.

-- Matthew Rasmussen

Salon Staff

MORE FROM Salon Staff

Related Topics ------------------------------------------