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Women Health. 1976 Sep-Oct;1(5):26-7.

Litigation involving DES.



Focus is on the diethylstilbestrol (DES) litigation which has resulted from the 1971 discovery that this synthetic estrogen can cause cancer in the daughters of women who used the drug during pregnancy in an effort to prevent threatened abortion. Possibly 100 suits are pending at this time in which DES daughters claim injuries. In most of these vaginal or cervical cancer has appeared -- with or without a hysterectomy having been performed. Several women died from cancer. The fact that the use of DES occurred many years ago is the legal hurdle most troublesome to lawyers. The average women coming to a lawyer's office today has a mother who used some form of DES, perhaps in 1955. Few drugstores have records today of the prescriptions which they filled 20 years ago. It has been estimated that over the 1950-1970 period more than 200 different companies manufactured or "tabletized" under their own name DES plus a variety of similar synthetic estrogens promoted for the prevention of threatened abortion. A further hurdle caused by the passage of time is that even the records of the physicians are frequently lost. A final problem created by the age of the cases is statute of limitations. If the actual manufacturer of the DES cannot be identified, this is generally the end of the lawyer's interest in the case. The chance of the plaintiff winning may be increased if the action against all the manufacturers is a class action. Most of the pending DES suits are against the manufacturer and not against the doctor. Thus far no DES case has been tried to completion. Several have been settled by the manufacturers on the eve of the trial, generally for less than the full sum that a cancer victim would expect to receive.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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