Catalyst for change: Erin Brockovich speaks up

Neelima Choahan

31/08/2018 3:35:11 PM

US activist Erin Brockovich talks to newsGP about what motivates her to keep fighting for justice.

Erin Brockovich said she continues to lend her voice to various issues because she believes in justice.
Erin Brockovich said she continues to lend her voice to various issues because she believes in justice.

Erin Brockovich believes in the power of speaking up. And she wants GPs to join in, too.
After all, it is speaking up that has turned the single mother-of-three into a global activist and an environmental crusader.
The American, who calls herself a consumer advocate, grabbed the world’s attention after taking on Pacific Gas and Electric for leaking a chemical, chromium, into the water of US town Hinkley, in California, for more than 30 years.
In 1996, the utility giant was forced to pay out $333 million in damages to more than 600 of the town’s residents – one of the largest medical settlements in US history.
The David and Goliath battle was captured in a 2000 Hollywood film starring Julia Roberts.
Now the real Ms Brockovich is in Australia as an ambassador for Shine Lawyers, which has launched a class action against Johnson and Johnson and Ethicon for faulty transvaginal mesh implants that have impacted thousands of women across the country.
Ms Brockovich told newsGP she was compelled to help from the moment she heard about the issue.
‘I am a woman, I am a mother, I am a sister, I am a grandmother,’ Ms Brockovich said.
‘Anything that I can do to create awareness, information and education so that through this horrible time they have some support, possibly some relief, and can find some helpful ways to move through it.’
Shine Lawyers Special Counsel for Class Actions Rebecca Jancauskas said women who have been impacted by the mesh can still register their interest to see if they are eligible for any compensation upon the resolution of the case.
Ms Brockovich believes people, especially women, are often hesitant to speak up – and many people, including healthcare professionals, sometimes don’t listen.
‘It is always disturbing to me that there is such a lack of communication in many instances,’ she said.
‘We don’t always speak up. But … I am not afraid of disruption. I think disruption is good and I think we have been taught disruption is bad.’
But, Ms Brockovich said, society is changing and everyone, including GPs, can benefit from being more used to disruption.
‘I think as more and more of this happens, that we, especially women, need to push more with our doctors and ask questions and, if we are uncomfortable, not be afraid to say, “I don’t know that you are hearing me, I don’t feel like you are listening to me”, and speak up,’ she said.
‘I really think that’s important. I think we are kind of in that time where doctors need to expect that more, and all of us be able to have a conversation that oftentimes we don’t want to have.’
The Californian has also been working with Shine Lawyers to raise awareness of silicosis – a chronic lung disease caused by long-term inhalation of dust containing free crystalline silica.
‘Here, again, there is a substance and a situation that … we are going, “Oops, we might have another problem”,’ she said.
‘It is stonecutter’s disease. It’s going to be something that a doctor may not be aware of, where doctors need to ask more questions: “Where do you work? What are you exposed to”.’
Shine Lawyers National Special Counsel in Dust Disease Roger Singh said silicosis is a disease that is making a comeback, affecting stonemasons.
‘On the medical front there are many doctors, particularly those who are new to the profession, who would not have come across this disease on a prior occasion,’ Mr Singh said.
‘That’s why it is important when they see a young man with breathing difficulties, persistent cough, chest pains to ask simply, “What do you do for a job?”
‘That could hasten medical investigation and diagnosis and, of course, the sooner diagnosis is made the greater chance of putting in a care plan and monitoring the condition to avoid that condition from progressing further and becoming life-threatening.’
Mr Singh said the firm has established a national register to enable workers exposed to silica to tell their stories.
Ms Brockovich said she continues to lend her voice to various issues because she believes in justice.
‘Most of us don’t have a lot of power until we get the support … because you have to have a number of people … to get that corporation to even listen to you,’ she said.
‘That’s why I am excited about the society we are living in today, because we are rising up … it is going to take all of our voices to turn that tide.
‘GPs could be an enormous part of this. From the inception, ask that question, find out. You could be that GP that could say, “Hey, I think this is a problem”. 
‘You might uncover something that’s going on and you might as a GP be responsible for saving many, many lives. They just need to choose to speak up.’

class action Erin Brockovich transvaginal mesh implants

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