DES: The Truth Rises to the Top

8 Jan

The following item was submitted to The Huffington Post, but never picked up by them. Then it was posted on CNN iReport, but a minute and a half later, it was removed and replaced with the following message: “This iReport has been removed because it was flagged by the community and found to be in violation of the iReport Community Guidelines and Terms of Use.”

DES Info proudly runs the item here. Thank you Diana Bianchini for sharing it with us.

DES: The Truth Rises to the Top

By Diana Bianchini

 In 2010, I wrote a HuffPost piece about DES (diethylstilbestrol), considered by many to be the world’s first drug disaster.

DES, a toxic and carcinogenic synthetic estrogen, was prescribed to millions of pregnant women for decades: from 1938 until 1971 (and in a small number of cases for several years thereafter) in the United States; and until the mid-1980s in parts of Latin America, Europe, Australia, and the Third World. The currently proven effects of exposure include a rare vaginal cancer in DES Daughters; greater risk for breast cancer in DES Mothers; possible risk for testicular cancer in DES Sons; abnormal reproductive organs; infertility; high-risk pregnancies; and an increased risk for breast cancer in DES Daughters after age 40. There are a number of other suspected effects, including auto-immune disorders, but many of these effects are still awaiting further research.

At the time of my writing, award-winning screenwriter and DES Daughter Caitlin McCarthy was engaged in her grassroots campaign to secure an apology from the FDA for the DES drug disaster. For a year, she worked closely with the offices of US Senator John Kerry (D-MA) and US Senator Scott Brown (R-MA) on this effort.

On February 22, 2011,  the senators received a 3-page response from the FDA, per their joint letter about a DES apology.  The FDA’s letter did not contain an official apology from the federal government for the DES drug disaster. However, it acknowledged the devastating health consequences of DES, explained FDA initiatives to prevent future drug disasters, and talked about DES as a “tragedy” for the first time in 40 years.

To this day, not one drug company has ever apologized or accepted responsibility for the DES tragedy – even after repeated defeats in court and having to pay millions in out-of-court settlements and verdicts to DES Daughters and Sons who suffered injuries from their exposure.

Could the game be up for Big Pharma? Recent developments suggest that.

In December 2012, President Obama nominated Senator Kerry – friend to DES victims everywhere – as Secretary of State.

That same month, leading online legal news source named DES one of the Top 10 Pharmaceuticals Topics for 2012.

And on January 8, 2013, the first historical DES breast cancer trial will begin at the John Joseph Moakley U.S. Courthouse in Boston, MA. Two attorneys, Aaron Levine and Julie Oliver-Zhang of Aaron M. Levine & Associates, will advocate on behalf of DES Daughters. About 20 lawyers will represent the drug companies, including Eli Lilly.

There have already been victories for the plaintiffs (meaning DES Daughters). On December 21, 2012, Federal Judge Marianne B. Bowler of the United States District Court of Massachusetts denied two of Defendant Eli Lilly’s Summary Judgment motions on negligent failure to warn and product identification in the case Fecho v. Eli Lilly. This is a significant victory for DES Daughters with breast cancer.

The Melnick sisters, a family of four DES Daughters from Pennsylvania, will be the first DES breast cancer case to be tried in court. The four Melnick sisters were all exposed to DES in utero and all suffered infertility as well as a myriad of signature DES reproductive tract abnormalities. All four sisters contracted breast cancer on or before the age of 50. The eldest, fifth Melnick sister, who is not a party to the lawsuit, was not exposed to DES. She was able to have a child, and remains cancer-free.

The Defendant in this case, the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, manufactured DES between the late 1940′s to early 1970′s. DES was touted as a miscarriage-prevention drug. However, it was proven to be a carcinogen and teratogen to the fetus. DES also had no effect in preventing miscarriages. DES manufacturers like Eli Lilly never tested or warned of the dangers of the drug and its known carcinogenic effects. The FDA contraindicated DES during pregnancy in 1971.

The Defendants attempted to block the Plaintiffs from their day in court and claimed that they are unable to prove that DES would not have been prescribed if Eli Lilly had adequately warned of the dangerous effects of DES to unborn children.  Additionally, Defendant Eli Lilly, the largest DES maker in the country for two decades, argued that the Plaintiffs cannot prove which brand of DES the Plaintiffs were exposed to despite testimony from eye-witnesses to the contrary. Judge Bowler found that the Plaintiffs’ case presents genuine disputed issues of material facts, which warrants a jury trial to determine the liability of Eli Lilly. Plaintiffs will present evidence at trial that Eli Lilly made the DES that the Plaintiffs’ mother ingested, and that had Eli Lilly provided an adequate warning, the Fecho sisters would not have been exposed in utero to DES, which led to the development of their breast cancer.

DES Daughters, such as the Melnick sisters, are at an elevated risk for clear-cell adenocarcinoma of the vagina and cervix, infertility, subfertility, and breast cancer. DES Daughters should be vigilant about breast cancer screening and check with their doctors regarding the avoidance of female hormone therapies to reduce cancer risk.

Some view the number 13 as unlucky, but I believe this upcoming year will be fortunate for DES victims. DES can no longer be viewed as a “dead issue” by certain members of the government, media, medical community, or public-at-large. DES is the “canary in the coalmine” for issues today that affect all of us: DES’ chemical cousin BPA, transgenerational effects of endocrine disruptorsfertility issues, and rising cancer rates, to name a few.

The truth always rises to the top. In 2013, we will see and believe it.

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