SNL’s Mesothelioma Skit: A Disservice to Victims or Opportunity for Awareness?
Yes, it’s true that many mesothelioma victims and their families thought the skit about mesothelioma that recently aired on Saturday Night Live was insensitive. It was. The late-night television ads giving rise to SNL’s thoughtless humor do not resonate with folks who have never experienced this devastating asbestos cancer. Most people don’t realize how life-shattering mesothelioma is, nor how quickly and cruelly the disease robs families of their loved ones.
So maybe all the press this sketch has generated in the days since it aired is not such a bad thing. At Baron & Budd, we think mesothelioma could use more air time. In honor of Global Asbestos Awareness Week April 1-6, we want to use the publicity to explain exactly how horrifying a disease mesothelioma can be.
What is Mesothelioma?
Malignant mesothelioma is caused by exposure to asbestos which, until a few decades ago, was utilized in products all over the world because of its lightweight, durability, soundproof and heat-resistant properties. Asbestos fibers become airborne when the products they are used in deteriorate with age or are sawed, crushed, drilled, scraped or sanded, such as during the installation or removal of many building products manufactured throughout the 20th century. Once these extremely small particles are airborne, they can be inhaled or ingested by anyone nearby.
In the body, asbestos fibers lodge themselves in cell walls where they fester, causing the body to build up scar tissue around them. Over many years, the microscopic fibers can cause cancerous cells to develop in the body’s mesothelium, a sac-like membrane which lines and protects most of our internal organs.
Pleural mesothelioma occurs in the exterior lining of the lung. Peritoneal mesothelioma begins in the peritoneal lining of the abdomen, which provides lubrication for the organs inside the abdominal cavity. It is rarer for mesothelioma to occur in the pericardium, which lines the heart, and in the lining of the reproductive organs, but it does happen.
Between 2,500 and 3,000 new cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed every year in the United States. Because it can take twenty to seventy years for this cancer to produce noticeable symptoms, some men and women who were exposed to asbestos in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s have yet to be diagnosed. That means the number of new cases annually has likely not yet peaked. Currently, there is no cure for mesothelioma. The disease can be very aggressive, with many patients not living more than a year after diagnosis.
At Baron & Budd, we have fought for more than four decades to have asbestos outlawed in this country. 59 other countries have already made the use of asbestos illegal in any form. Although the United States no longer mines the lethal mineral, the U.S. continues to import approximately 340 metric tons of asbestos a year. Perhaps if more people were aware of the devastating effects of mesothelioma on its victims and their families, and were more informed about the lingering legacy of death and destroyed lives wrought upon us by greedy asbestos companies, more compassion would be demonstrated by the joke makers in midtown Manhattan. Since 1975, NBC’s Saturday Night Live has held a mirror up to society, reflecting in its parodies what is trending in contemporary culture and politics. How nice it would be if the use of asbestos around the world was completely eradicated, if death by mesothelioma became a thing of the past, and if asbestos and mesothelioma were no longer mocked in late-night variety shows. Awareness will get us there, so thank you, SNL, for casting a light, however tasteless, on this evil and persistent menace.