Dan Hinshaw: End arbitrary 'death clock'

March 12, 2013 

A little less than two years ago, I was experiencing the kind of back pain that's relatively common for firefighters like myself. But when the testing was all done, I got the shock of a lifetime. Multiple myeloma, an incurable blood and bone cancer, had eaten away at my vertebrae.

I'm 50 years old. If I'm lucky, I'll live another eight years. If I'm not, four years or less.

Nobody questions that the disease was job-related -- not the doctors, and not my employer. Indeed, among the dozens of medical studies linking firefighting and cancer, multiple myeloma stands out as a particularly great risk.

I don't tell my story because I'm any more heroic than the countless others who battle cancer. Rather it's so you can understand my deep disappointment with The Sun-Star's harsh and, in my view, misleading and unfair editorial regarding Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez's bill on public safety survivor safeguards.

Like most other cancer patients, I want to fight for every day of life, and thanks to modern medical science, I can wage that battle longer than ever. But because of a law passed in 1913, my wife could lose a modest survivor safeguard if I live longer than 240 weeks. If I live "too long," she pays the penalty. All because of a law passed at a time when cigarette smoking was considered "healthy."

Speaker Pérez's bill -- AB 1373 -- modifies this archaic "death clock" to reflect the times and advances in medical research. Contrary to The Sun-Star's hysterical depiction, the bill is modest and humane, with numerous safeguards to narrow its impact. It's designed to do a simple thing: take away the penalty for those relatively few cases where the fight for life outlasts an arbitrary time limit.

While it's significant enough to make a difference, the survivor safeguard is far from "lavish" and is hardly a "perk." As a firefighter, the threat of death is part of the job, whether in an instant or from job-related illness. Survivor safeguards offer the reassurance that, if the worst happens, our families won't face deprivation.

The Sun-Star recites claims by city and county government groups that this measure will cost "hundreds of millions" of dollars. But so far, there's no credible fiscal data to back up that claim. None. It's just political spin.

Sometime in the future, the doctors say my treatment options will run out, and my time might be short. Until that happens, I want to fight for life. This bill lets me wage that fight without penalizing my loved ones.

Hinshaw worked for 26 years in the Modesto Fire Department, most recently as a battalion chief.

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