Congress is once again considering a bill that would eliminate liability for harm caused by dangerous drugs.
This immunity is part of HR 5, which also seeks to prevent juries from awarding full damages for medical malpractice. Not only would this bill eliminate corporate accountability, it would disproportionately impact women.
University of Buffalo law professor Lucinda Finley has written, “Reproductive or sexual harm caused by drugs and medical devices has a highly disproportionate impact on women, because far more drugs and devices have been devised to control women’s fertility or bodily functions associated with sex and childbearing than have been devised for men”.
Here are some examples:
Dalkon Shield IUD
AH Robbins contraceptive device caused more than 200,000 injuries and deaths including perforated uteruses, septic abortions, and infertility. After three years, the FDA suspended distribution of the IUD but did not recall existing stock or advise doctors to remove them. For the next ten years the company fought any effort to have the devices removed and even continued to promote the device. After hundreds of lawsuits, the company finally urged removal and paid for it.
As of March 2012, Johnson and Johnson Ethicon unit faced more than 550 lawsuits from women injured or killed by the company’s vaginal mesh implant device. Evidence shows that the company sold the product for three years without FDA approval.
High Absorbency Tampons
A woman died from toxic shock syndrome (TSS) after using Playtex super-absorbent tampons, Her family sued and a jury awarded 11.5m. After the verdict, Playtex finally responded to the many deaths and injuries caused by their product and took it off the market. They also began warning of the risk of TSS on all their packaging, and how to avoid it.
Approved by the FDA in 2002, the weekly birth control patch caused blood clots, heart attacks, and strokes. Both Ortho McNeil and the FDA knew of major problems with the patch but kept the information quiet until documents produced as part of lawsuit discovery forced the information out into public view.
A woman who suffered life-threatening injuries after taking the oral contraceptive sued. At that time there were 21 women who had suffered similar harm from oral contraceptives as well as a number of scientific articles showing a link. Yet Ortho Pharmaceuticals never warned doctors or their patients about the other injuries or the causal connection between use and these injuries. After a $4.5m verdict, the manufacturer finally reduced estrogen levels to dramatically reduce the potential for injury.
On 1980, the FDA approved the drug to suppress lactation in women after birth. Instead, it caused heart attacks and strokes. Sandoz was the only manufacturer to refuse FDA’s call for a voluntary recall. For five years they marketed this product to hospitals for women who would not be breast-feeding. Hundreds were injured or killed. Finally after a large jury verdict, Sandoz removed the product from the market.
In July 2010. Glaxo Smith Kline settled some 800 Paxil lawsuits for more the 1B, because the drug caused birth defects in the children of women who took it.
Evidence has been around since the 1930s that estrogen can cause cancer. Yet by 2000, untold numbers of women had been harmed or killed from being over prescribed hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for common menopause symptoms like hot flashes and night sweats. According to a January 13, 2012 Bloomberg article “more than 6 million women took Pfizer’s Preempro before a 2002 study highlighted its link to cancer. At one point Pfizer faced 10,000 lawsuits over the medications.”
In April 2012, a Connecticut jury awarded 3.75m to a woman who took Preempro and developed breast cancer. Damage awards have also been brought in against Pfizer in Pennsylvania.