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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Manchester - Computer Futures

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Computer Futures (an SThree br...

SEN Learning Support Assistant

£60 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Group: Youth Support Workers Glouceste...

IT Technician - 1st Line

£19000 - £21000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPOR...

PPA Cover Teacher

£110 - £130 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Pr...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London