MULTIPLE CHEMICAL SENSITIVITY:
Government and Medical Science Finally Recognize
Crippling Effects of MCS
October 3, 2003
BY HELKE FERRIE
It is said that when you come to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on. For those whose lives have been devastated by Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) and who have been hanging on to that knot for quite some time now, this determination is finally paying off. It appears that with regard to MCS, Canada is beginning to live up to its reputation of striving for a just society. I am reporting on developments that I have been part of since April.
In Spring of 2002 Canada's most senior Senator, Herb Sparrow, had personally observed a CPP appeal hearing of one of his MCS-afflicted constituents from Battleford, Saskatchewan. This person had become disabled from a massive exposure to pesticides. Events at that appeal convinced him that the federal pension and disability program is indeed influenced by serious bias against people diagnosed with chemical injuries. He reported the procedural abuse he had witnessed to the Minister of Human Resources, the Hon. Jane Stewart, requesting her help.
On April 10 the Minister hosted a meeting in her office with Senator Sparrow, representatives of the Research Advocacy and Information Network (RAINET - the advocacy organization working for this CPP applicant), and me at RAINET's request. The files of this and several other MCS cases, similarly tainted with procedural bias, often for many years and with heart-breaking effects, were formally given to the Minister. A lively discussion about health and environment ensued. Believing that nobody can ever have too much education, I presented the Minister with a copy of the book my publishing company had recently released: Dr. Jozef Krop's Healing The Planet One Patient At A Time. She not only leafed through it with interest and asked many pertinent questions, but began to tell us about people in her own Brantford constituency who had become ill from environmental toxins. She requested detailed reports from RAINET and from me for the senior administrative staff of her department to assist with the process of drawing up new guidelines for MCS-afflicted applicants.
RAINET was founded by Hilary Balmer, a nurse who became disabled due to chemical injury. Her organization wants to identify "chemically/environmentally induced injury and/or illness as an officially recognized disability". In partnership with workers' advocacy groups and medical organizations, Balmer has helped many people. With the unexpected help from the Senator, Balmer's efforts have matured into truly meaningful discussion with the federal government. In her report to the Minister, Balmer observed (supported by ample documentation) that "pervasive prejudice against persons with disabilities such as MCS permeates the agencies charged with the responsibility of adjudicating applications for disability benefits. The incapacitated person is perceived as a psychological misfit and thus undeserving of disability benefits."
The subsequent meeting with senior Human Resources administrative staff was friendly and collegial. New guidelines are being created and some messed-up cases have already been resolved. Existing legislation is excellent because it focuses on how disabled a person is, regardless of the diagnosis that can change or be difficult to make. Between 1998 and 2003 three Supreme Court decisions and one federal appeals court have spelled out how the government must interpret the law governing disability benefits and what characteristics a reliable expert opinion has. In 1998 the court stated that the law must be understood "in broad and generous terms so that any doubt arising from the language of such legislation ought to be resolved in favour of the claimant" (Rizzo). In 2000 it ruled that applicants must be "accommodated" according to their level of disability (Granowsky), and in 2001 clear "tests for disability" were defined (Villani) to protect the "benevolent purposes of the legislation". In May (C.U.P.E. 2003) the Supreme Court defined experts as having the qualities of "neutrality, independence and proven expertise".
Nevertheless, the reality is that when a person carries an MCS diagnosis, the competing interests of insurance companies, employers, and government programs often erect seemingly insurmountable barriers for the applicant. Furthermore, not only is MCS a new disease, but it is caused by substances upon which industrialized economies depend. This situation began some 200 years ago when coal-fired industries caused asthma, allergies and cancer to appear in unprecedented numbers. Since then, tens of thousands of even more toxic substances have become part of everybody's environment - with a predictable increase in corporate and public attempts to avoid responsibility.
Lawyer Matthew Wilton of Toronto has defended many doctors who diagnose environmental illness, such as the internationally renowned environmental medicine expert Dr. Jozef Krop and the asthma expert Dr. Sukhdev Kooner who works in Canada's asthma capital, Windsor. These physicians often run into trouble with regulatory agencies and industry because they stand up for their patients against insurance companies and government agencies denying the reality of MCS and even traditional environmentally mediated illnesses, such as mold toxicity.
A large part of Wilton's practice is devoted to clients with insurance claims. The typical case is that of a disabled person whose private insurance is running out and whose employer wants to fire him or her. Insurance companies turn to their own doctors who are trained by their organization, the Canadian Association of Independent Assessors, in the fine art of discrediting a patient's application. A few years ago, a formal complaint was lodged by Ontario doctors with their licensing authority, the College of Physicians and Surgeons, objecting to this obvious lack of medical ethics when a doctor actively works against a trusting patient's interests. The College replied that this wasn't unethical because the patient was merely referred and not actually the doctor's own patient - a twisted logic arising from the fact that representatives of the insurance industry sit on the College's council and sometimes are even members of the disciplinary committees prosecuting doctors who stand up to the industry. Insurance doctors routinely assert that MCS is just another form of panic attacks. "Experts" are produced who insist that nothing at all is the matter with this person. The "proof" is in each case the same: outdated medical literature is cited, current medical research results are ignored, meaningless tests are demanded, and the physician who treated this disabled patient on a regular basis, and is thus qualified to defend her case, is dismissed as being ignorant. Often this medical garbage becomes part of an applicant's file with Canada Pension and Disability and so both the private and public insurance processes become fatally flawed.
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