Science: Medical advances under threat from patients who sue

`Mother sues over breast implants that left baby ill' said the weekend headlines about a British case. But scientists and doctors from the US say fears of lawsuits are leading health companies to shy away from providing new, useful technologies. Who loses? You, the patient - especially if you are female. Charles Arthur, Science Editor, investigates.

American scientists and doctors are worried that lawsuits over medical equipment are killing off potentially useful technologies in the US - and that the same trend could follow here.

Their biggest objections are that the lawsuits, and sometimes decisions that follow, are based on "junk science" which does not stand up to scientific scrutiny. Yet manufacturers fight shy of them because they don't want to end up with huge legal bills.

At risk, they say, are not just silicone breast implants, but also contraceptive pills, drugs for children, and even essential items such as pacemakers.

"It's a serious issue," said Cheston Berlin, a paediatrician at Penn State University's medical school, who complains that pharmaceuticals companies are so scared of lawsuits that 80 per cent of drugs in the US don't have any labelling advice for doctors on what dosage children should receive. The result: if anything goes wrong, the doctor gets sued.

Elizabeth Connell, an emeritus professor at Emrie University school of medicine, said: "There is a frenzy of litigation in the US over medical issues. It's the worst thing that's ever happened in the history of medicine for women in the US."

As a result, she said: "We have lost intra-uterine [contraceptive] devices, almost lost breast implants, and companies working on womens' reproductive health issues have dropped from 20 to three. There used to be 14 companies working on female contraceptives: now there are just two." The reduction is not caused by mergers or business failure: "They just shut down their whole reproductive health divisions and went into fields where there was less litigation."

Last weekend, many newspapers carried a story saying that Mary Bowler, from North Walsham in Norfolk, had been granted legal aid to sue Dow Corning, which makes silicone breast implants. Ms Bowler claims her baby Danielle was harmed during the three days she was breast-fed because, Ms Bowler claims, the implants were deteriorating and leaked into the breast milk.

However, contrary to the reports, the legal aid will only cover the cost of seeking expert opinion, to see whether "there are reasonable prospects of success" if the case goes ahead.

It is still a long way from the courts. According to some American scientists, it should never get there. Ms Bowler's solicitor has declined to comment.

Dr Wendy Epstein, who has investigated the field of silicone-related legal cases closely, says that large-scale epidemiological studies have always shown that there is no difference in the amount of autoimmune disease in women with or without silicone implants, and "emphatically" no demonstrable effects on children of mothers with implants. Certainly, some mothers with implants have shown no worries about breastfeeding - the highest- profile of whom is probably the celebrity Pamela Anderson Lee, proud owner of both a breast-fed baby and a surgically-enhanced bust.

But a 1994 US study apparently showed that four of 11 children breast- fed by mothers with implants had illness and low weight gain. Dr Epstein charges that the figures were distorted by only including ill children in the studies only after identifying them. That seriously distorts the statistics, and means they are not a useful guide to the effects - if any - of implants.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
News
peopleComedian launches stinging attack on PM
Life and Style
The collection displayed Versace’s softer side, with models wearing flowers and chiffon dresses in unusual colourings
fashionVersace haute couture review
News
Andy Murray shakes hands after defeating Andreas Seppi of Italy in the third round of Wimbledon, Saturday 4 July, 2015
Wimbledon
Arts and Entertainment
'The Leaf'
artYes, it's a leaf, but a potentially very expensive one
News
Yoko Ono at the Royal Festival Hall for Double Fantasy Live
people'I wont let him destroy memory of John Lennon or The Beatles'
News
Could Greece leave the EU?
news
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Home Care / Support Workers

£7 - £10 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This care provider is looking for Home ...

Recruitment Genius: Web Team Leader

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...

Recruitment Genius: Client Manager

£27000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A growing, successful, friendly...

Recruitment Genius: Property Negotiator - OTE £20,000+

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This family owned, independent ...

Day In a Page

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'