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City Shuts Down Terminal Cancer Patient’s Fundraising Yard Sales

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By HVnews on August 17, 2011

Jan Cline has run businesses and supported herself for years. But this summer the Salem, Oregon resident was diagnosed with bone cancer. Terminal bone cancer.

“It’s a bone marrow cancer that eats through the bones and causes holes in the bones so that just by walking I can break a bone,” she told KATU.

Cline not only found out she’d been sentenced to certain death, but she lost her ability to work, along with the health insurance that came with that job. Her lack of money or insurance meant that she had no way to pay for her medical bills, which she describes as thousands and thousands.

So, in order to pay those bills, she decided to sell all her earthly possessions in her backyard. And then, after a complaint from a neighbor to the city, she found out from the city that she couldn’t even do that. She’s been shut down. “He said, ‘I’m sorry. Rules are rules,’” she said.

Rules are rules. We’ll get to that in a moment. Here’s the KATU report:

Salem has a clear rule against more than three yard sales per year. According to the Community Development Department, there is a reason for the law. In the past, some people had set up permanent flea-market-type businesses on their property. Makes sense.

After hearing about Cline’s situation, a supervisor in that department said he is going to take another look to see if there’s anything Cline can do to operate within the law. But if she reopens before that happens, she will face a misdemeanor and about a $300 fine.

But ultimately, Cline’s terminal bone cancer is the one trump card she has. Assuming she kept hosting her yard sales, would the city call the cops to shut her down? Fine her? Arrest her? How bad would the city look if that was the case? Would it even matter if they fined her? Take the ticket and rip it up. She’s terminal — why even bother paying it? Come to think of it, why is she raising money in the first place? Why even pay her medical bills?

Except, let’s examine the rule of law: You can’t just ignore the rules of society because you have a terminal illness. Where would that stop? Hey, don’t want to pay your parking ticket? Tell the city you’ve got Herpes. It certainly sucks in Cline’s case, but the city has to enforce the rules, otherwise the rules just become a joke that nobody abides.

At the same time, the city isn’t even the real antagonist in this story. That honor belongs to the neighbor, who complained to the city ultimately forcing Salem’s hand. The city wouldn’t have even known about Cline’s backyard sales had it not been for the neighbor who ratted her out.

Cline has been hosting this for weeks now, and it looks like she’s set up a flea market in her backyard, complete with pop-up tents and everything. This isn’t a weekend yard sale. Does she not know about Craigslist? There are other options that just throwing a flea market in your backyard every weekend.

The general rule of thumb when you do anything illegal or that may offend your neighbors is to tell them what you’re going to do and get their implicit approval. Had Cline spoken to her neighborhood first, those same people might’ve given her more leeway, or at least spoken to her first before going to the city.

Back to the sad part: She’s got terminal cancer. Plenty of people have lived decent lives fighting their diagnosis, but Oregon does have their assisted suicide law if she had no money for her medical bills. Not to say she should go that route, by any means. But that’s an option, to die with dignity and smoke some serious medical marijuana in the process.

It’s just unfortunate that America is a country without the regulations to help people fight their health-care diagnosis but plenty of regulations to prevent them from raising the funds to do just that. Say what you want about America’s health care, but as long as health insurance is connected to having a job, these kinds of stories are going to be the norm, rather than the exception.

Hopefully, Cline’s neighbors step up and offer to host three sales on her behalf to solve this problem.

So what do you think? Is the city being too harsh? Is Cline out of line in thinking laws shouldn’t apply to cancer victims (see: White, Walter)? Is the neighbor to blame? Weigh in below.

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