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October 01, 2018

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Jennifer Rangel, Chair, ABA Breast Cancer Initiatives Interest Group

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  The ABA Health Law Section's Breast Cancer Initiatives Interest Group (BCI-IG) would like to highlight some ways that lawyers are helping cancer patients navigate their legal issues.

A number of ABA members are actively involved in the work of the BCI-IG.  The primary goals of the BCI-IG are to:

1.      Create substantive legal advocacy training for lawyers;

2.      Provide resources for lawyers and for patients facing breast cancer; and

3.      Educate women, attorneys, and policy-makers on the wide range of legal issues impacting women's health.

To achieve these goals, the BCI-IG has developed a legal advocacy guide and used it to provide education.  Since 2007, the BCI-IG has sponsored 33 Training Workshops across the country, reaching almost 1,000 attorneys, and made educational webinars available to many more attorneys.  As a result, we have trained more than a thousand attorneys on the legal issues impacting cancer patients, survivors and their families and empowered them to provide free or low cost legal services to individuals and families in need.

Lawyers are also actively helping cancer patients in various ways in their local communities.  A notable example is the work of the University of Buffalo School of Law  in Buffalo, New York.  The Health Justice Clinic at the University of Buffalo provides students to staff LegalCare at Roswell Park, a medical-legal partnership between the law school and the Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, located in the hospital and serving the Roswell Park patients.

Two examples of how law students exercised critical cancer advocacy skills include:

1)      Planning for the care and custody of children for a mother facing end of life after a valiant battle with cancer. The case was referred to LegalCare by a social worker. Trained students assisted the mother with executing a designation of standby guardianship for her son. The mother expressed her appreciation of how the students’ help gave her so much peace of mind.

2)      Fighting workplace discrimination by an employer that did not appropriately accommodate a cancer patient’s treatment-related needs. Students advocated for the employee at the New York Division of Human Rights agency level. They drafted multiple submissions, reviewed all documentation, constructed a strong argument, and prepared the client for the agency’s investigative interview. The agency found probable cause that discrimination occurred, and the resulting settlement enabled the employee to focus on obtaining her cancer treatment.

Additionally, law students at LegalCare handle a broad civil practice that includes advance planning for healthcare decision-making, fighting unhealthy housing conditions and housing instability, and appealing insurance and other benefits denials.  Much of LegalCare’s success can be attributed to the clinic’s director and the students’ collaborative approach — working closely with Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center’s health professionals and branching out into the local community to engage legal and non-legal partners. For more information about the clinic, please reach: Danielle Pelfrey Duryea, University of Buffalo Assistant Dean for Interprofessional Education and Health Law Initiatives, at [email protected].

There are many ways you can help make a difference for breast cancer survivors and their families facing cancer and other debilitating diseases, and for those confronted with end of life decisions.  You can join the BCI-IG; membership is free to any ABA member.  You can work with the BCI-IG to put on a workshop in your city.  You can help develop a webinar on an educational or advocacy topic.  You can volunteer to participate with cancer support organizations or medical/legal partnerships in your area.  And you can make a tax-deductible gift to the Health Law Section’s Program Support Fund (501c3).  

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For more information contact Carol Simmons, Health Law Section Associate Director at [email protected].

 Zoila Sanchez, Law Student Liaison to the Breast Cancer Initiatives Interest Group, contributed to this article.