This opinion-editorial originally appeared at TownHall.com.
Arkansas Proposed Amendment Puts a Price Tag on Life
For the last 30 years of my life, I’ve been devoted to making a difference for life. I am on a mission from God. It’s really rather simple. My faith taught me that every single human life is created in the image of Almighty God and is immeasurably valuable, assigned intrinsic worth and precious in His sight. As members of the human family our individual lives are unique yet the sanctity and dignity of each person is equal. Life matters. Life is priceless and that’s why in November, I am voting against Issue One in Arkansas.
We live in a culture that for the last 45 years has eroded the value of human life by waging war on the unborn child. It is not hard to believe that every step since further lessens the value of each and every other single human life and contributes to the breakdown of all that has ever been good, noble and desirable about America. Doing everything possible to build, enhance and protect a true culture of life is crucial. Culture matters and a culture that values life more, instead of valuing it less is imperative in a day when little seems sacred anymore; where right and wrong are no longer taught as absolutes.
I’ve been untiring in my efforts to protect and defend unborn children from the horrors of abortion. Arkansas was recently named the second most pro-life state in the nation because of the laws that we have passed to protect pregnant women and their unborn children from the tragic decision of abortion. When I first began my involvement in 1988 there were four independent abortion providers within five miles of each other in Little Rock. Today there is one independent surgical abortion provider in Little Rock; and two Planned Parenthoods one in Little Rock and one in Fayetteville that provide chemical abortion.
Issue One presents itself as a “tort reform” bill designed to limit greedy lawyer fees and stop out of control lawsuits. However, this is not their end game. In reality, this proposed amendment puts a one size fits all, arbitrary value of human life in our state constitution. After all our great work to create a culture of life in Arkansas and our efforts to protect and defend vulnerable human life, putting a dollar amount of the value of a human life in our Constitution at a maximum of $500,000 violates all we hold dear and erodes our own pro-life efforts and create a climate that could attract more abortion providers to our state.
When someone is killed by a drunk driver, harmed by a bad medical procedure, abused by a daycare worker, neglected in a nursing home or injured by greedy foreign manufacturer or abortion provider then their best hope of some measure of justice is in court with a jury of their peers–every day, common sense Arkansans. Each case, each circumstance and each life is given the respect of a trial, consideration of all the facts and the ability to make a judgment or award that appropriately fits that unique situation. If Issue One passes juries will not be able to award more than $500,000 in non-economic damages no matter the circumstance or situation.
The way these judgments work is by awarding damages in three categories: 1. economic damages–these are losses you can easily add up on a calculator such as lost wages, or damages to your property; 2. non-economic–these are damages for mental anguish, pain and suffering, trauma and loss of life and require case by case evaluation. These are real damages that cannot be easily measured in dollars such as losing a limb, living with a brain injury, rape, being permanently disfigured or being paralyzed; and lastly, 3. punitive damages–damages awarded strictly as punishment or to deter wrong conduct. These are more difficult to secure and are rarely awarded.
Issue One would put an arbitrary cap of $500,000 on non-economic and caps punitive damages. In real life this means that if a 40 year old successful business man is killed negligently then his life could be worth millions because you could calculate his current earnings and multiply them out for the future. If a stay at home mom, a child or infant, a retired veteran, an individual with Down Syndrome or other genetic disorder who isn’t employed or a nursing home resident who dies as a result of abuse or someone else’s error or negligence then those lives are all capped at a value never to exceed $500,000. The jury simply can’t award a family more, even if it wanted to do so. Think of your loved ones, would you ever put a price tag on their lives?
Ultimately, Issue One says that some lives are more valuable than others. It says that your life’s value is determined by your what you earn at the time of a tragedy. It says that Arkansans on juries can’t hear the facts and award a family $1 million dollars for the abuse of their child who was left brain damaged or the neglect of their elderly mother in a nursing home. Issue One is one more step in devaluing life in a culture where we simply can’t afford any more slips down that slope.
I grew up knowing that the threat of strong punishment is an important deterrent for wrong behavior and practices. The threat of a huge settlement should always be in the back of the minds of nursing homes, car manufacturers, bridge and building builders and others. If your college age daughter dies in a car crash because of a faulty brake line, does it really seem fair that her life is only worth $500,000? Do you think that amount deters a $1 billion dollar automobile company? Do we think long term care facilities and nursing homes will improve their care if Issue One passes? Unlikely. Good nursing homes will continue to do a great job, while bad actors will take advantage of the new caps to cut more corners.
I have personal experience with the nursing home industry in the care of my mother. Over the course of her illness, rehabilitation, Alzheimer’s and death she was a resident at a number of different facilities in Little Rock. Our nursing homes are filled with people from the greatest generation. Heroes who defended our freedoms, built our country, raised us to love our faith, our families and our country. If Issue One passes we put their lives at greater peril. We risk decline in the care they receive and an increase in neglect. It’s a risk we cannot and must not take.
Momma never wanted to live in a nursing home and told me once that if a mother can take care of seven children, seven children should be able to take care of one mother. Sadly, we couldn’t and a nursing home was where she lived the last six months of her life and where she died.The Alzheimer’s killed her but I know from witnessing it myself that the nursing homes were all understaffed, overworked and most likely underpaid for the care that was expected. My mother had a family that visited often and was vigilant in her care, but so many residents don’t have that support. If a resident is injured, neglected or the victim of a crime the nursing home should be held responsible and liable for any damages. A cap of $500,000 does nothing to deter future bad behavior and could only encourage it in my opinion.
Creating a culture of life means valuing every single life. It means that public policy must always err on the side of safeguarding the value of life and creating a culture of life. Lawsuit caps proposed by Issue One may please the nursing home industry and even abortion clinics who often harm vulnerable women but it’s wrong for Arkansas. Every life: the businessman, the mom at home, the child in school, the infirmed, the disabled, elderly, and the unborn are equally valuable. Each has been created in the image of a loving God. Life is priceless and we can’t let special interest and politicians place a price tag on life here in Arkansas. I hope you’ll join me in November by voting against Issue One.
Rose Mimms, is a respected and recognized pro-life advocate who has served as the Executive Director of the Arkansas Right to Life for over twenty years. This op-ed represents her own personal views as a passionate advocate for life, and does not reflect an official position on Issue One by Arkansas Right to Life.