Through groundbreaking and passionate advocacy, Sybil Shainwald has advanced a deeply personal commitment to social justice and women’s rights. Since her graduation from New York Law School as a member of the evening class of 1976, Sybil Shainwald has been a tireless force for safe and effective women’s healthcare, and one of the most successful pioneers of the women’s health movement. Due to her efforts, which have stretched to all corners of the globe, the quality and scope of women’s health care has dramatically improved.
In the words of United States District Court Judge Jack B. Weinstein, before whom she has appeared hundreds of times on behalf of injured women and families from across the globe, Sybil Shainwald’s “compassion and professional skills have ennobled the practice of law.”
Since the beginning, Sybil Shainwald’s legal career has focused almost exclusively on women’s health issues—often taking on cases other lawyers thought impossible to win. Throughout her career, Sybil Shainwald has litigated thousands of cases involving drugs and devices harmful to women and their children. Proving that women had suffered irreparable damage to their reproductive organs and overall health as a result of the pharmaceutical industry’s failure to test Diethylstilbestrol (DES) before putting it on the market, Sybil Shainwald was co-counsel in the nation’s first DES daughter victory, Bichler v. Lilly. After Bichler, thousands of women who had been exposed to DES and, consequently, had either developed cancer or were unable to bear children were unable to obtain compensation.
Subsequently, Sybil Shainwald was instrumental in changing the Statute of Limitations in New York State to a discovery statute. She filed the first case under the Revival Statute, which allowed dismissed cases be filed for a period of one year. In addition, Sybil Shainwald represented two thousand women in the Dalkon Shield class action against A.H. Robins and obtained equality for the women of Bangladesh, India, Kenya, and China; consequently, her picture hangs on the walls of many Bangladeshi homes. She has pioneered in many areas of women’s health, including bringing the initial cases for the lactation suppressant, Parlodel (a product by Sandoz Corp. that is now off the market), the pregnancy test, chronic villus sampling, and many others.
Where traditional remedies have been inadequate, Sybil Shainwald has devised innovative litigation strategies to achieve her clients’ goals. Sybil Shainwald persuaded the Court to establish an Emergency Fund to enable those women who had suffered from tragic injuries resulting from exposure to DES to adopt children or use surrogacy, so that their dreams could come true on their own timelines, and not that of their pharmaceutical litigation. In short, her passionate concern for women’s health and her unflagging devotion to her clients has transformed the practice of mass torts to enable women and men to have families, and to ensure safe and effective health care for American women and women in developing nations.
In addition to her advocacy in the courtroom, Sybil Shainwald has been an exemplary force for proactive education and information dissemination from Appalachia to Africa. For example, she was chair of the National Women’s Health Network and co-founded Health Action International, two organizations that enable women to preserve their health and rights to sound healthcare through knowledge. Throughout her career, Sybil Shainwald conducted meetings in places as far as Kenya, Costa Rica, and Bangladesh to acquaint women to the toxicity of various women’s health products including the Dalkon Shield, Depo Provera, Norplant, and silicone breast implants. Moreover, she served as an advisor for several international documentaries on women’s health, established a book club, and contributed to numerous books. To be sure, her extensive writings, lectures and appearances before Congressional subcommittees, the Food and Drug Administration, and national and international media, including all of the major national and international news stations, have raised global consciousness on crucial women’s health issues.
Sybil Shainwald’s volunteer service has also been unending, and the list of philanthropic and social organizations that she has served is lengthy. For example, she was a founding member of the Trial Lawyers for Public Justice, a member of the Food and Drug Administration’s Consumer Consortium, a part of Trial Lawyers Care (a group of attorneys representing the September 11th victims’ families on a pro bono basis), Chair of the Environmental and Toxic Torts section of the American Trial Lawyers Association (ATLA), a representative to the End-of-the-Decade Conference on Women, Health Advisor to the United Methodist Church, an integral part of the First Black Women’s Health Conference and the first Rural Women’s Health Conference, just to name a few.
Additionally, Sybil Shainwald has served a number of important grass roots women’s organizations which she also helps fund.
Sybil Shainwald has served on numerous boards, past and present, including: the Board of Trustees of New York Law School, and the Board of Directors of the National Women’s Health Network (Chair), the Consumer Interest Research Institute, Hysterectomy Education and Research Services (HERS), Health Action International, Civil Justice Foundation, the New York Academy of Art, American Friends of Tel Aviv Museum, and the Washington National Opera.
Perhaps most importantly, Sybil has ensured the continuation of her and her late husband, Sidney Shainwald’s, legacy of professionalism, ethics, and social responsibility by empowering the next generation of socially conscious activists and advocates. To this end, Sybil has established the Sidney Shainwald Public Interest Lecture Series at New York Law School in loving memory of her late husband. As a result of Sybil’s endowment, New York Law School has been able to bring such distinguished speakers as Special Master Kenneth R. Feinberg, Senator Edward M. Kennedy, and Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer to address students and faculty regarding meaningful issues the world faces. In addition, she has served as a professor and lecturer on issues related to corporate responsibility, women’s health, and mass tort litigation at universities, law schools, the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, the American Board of Trial Associates, and many other national and international organizations.
Sybil Shainwald’s academic career was as stellar as her legal one. At the College of William and Mary, she was the President Bryan Scholar and graduated Phi Beta Kappa. She received an M.A. degree in Political Science from Columbia University, before securing grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities to found the Study Center for the Consumer Movement at Consumers Union, where she served as Director. Because of her significant work in consumer affairs, Sybil Shainwald was awarded a Rockefeller Foundation grant and others for the purposes of an oral and written history of the Consumer Movement. Indeed, Sybil Shainwald’s legal achievements are all the more inspiring, as the law was her second career, and she attended law school in the evening after her children were grown.
Shainwald continues to be a women’s health activist, and she often writes and lectures on issues impacting women. She started this blog, womenshealthadvocate.org, to advance her commitment to social justice and women’s rights.
See more about Ms. Shainwald at https://sybilshainwald.com.