Host June Stoyer interviews the top CEO’s, experts, movers and shakers that affect the organic industry as well as our environment. The Organic View show explores all of the issues impacting the organic industry, proposed regulations, the environment, politics, living green and sustainability.
Take part in the new DES Health History survey created by DES Action USA and open to all DES-exposed individuals worldwide.
The survey is designed to establish trends and identify health issues faced by women who took Diethylstilbestrol, their DES exposed children, and also their children (DES granddaughters and grandsons).
Data from the DES community on health conditions – beyond those already known – which appear more frequently in DES-exposed individuals than among unexposed populations is critically missing. This information is needed to share with researchers who can follow-up with further study.
My mum has recently been diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, an autoimmune disease that affects the thyroid. Could it be associated with her exposure to Diethylstilbestrol back in the late 60’s? Is she the only woman who was prescribed the wonder drug DES during pregnancy to suffer from this health condition?
I suffer from anxiety and stress from worrying about what the future holds for my daughters and whether Diethylstilbestrol will affect their health and chances to give me and my husband grand children. Am I the only DES daughter out there who cries in secret when her little girl plays being a mum knowing that this synthetic hormone may one day prevent that imaginative play from becoming reality due to potential DES pregnancy complications?
The children of Marie-Odile Gobillard-Soyer, a French DES mother and researcher in molecular biology, both committed suicide. She started an association and in 2011 conducted a national study among children of French DES mothers which revealed a link between DES and mental illness issues in DES daughters and sons. Could this be a worldwide trend?
In October 2011, the alarming results of a study analyzing the risks of diethylstilbestrol related disorders among women whose mothers took the synthetic hormone during pregnancy, compared to others who weren’t exposed were published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine. But victims of this drug scandal wonder if other health conditions that are currently not associated with DES by the medical profession could in fact be the direct result of Diethylstilbestrol exposure. Hopefully the new global DES Health History Survey will answer these questions.
Since I started my Journal of a DES Daughter, I’ve read many sad testimonials and DES stories. What they all share in common is the incertitude for the future and the feeling that the DES drug scandal and its associated health issues are not enough acknowledged publicly and by the medical profession. The DES Health History Survey will provide DES Actions groups and DES activists with the data needed to push for more studies and support for DES victims.
Why is it important to know whether your health condition is associated with DES or not? First because DES victims have the right to KNOW and more importantly because PREVENTION of these conditions when you know you are at higher risk can save lives.
The deadline for the completion and return of this survey is JUNE 15th 2012.
Please share this information on your social networks, with your friend and family who may be interested in completing the survey. I can’t stress enough the importance to take part! This is our chance to be heard and make all of our health experience counts!
Boston, Massachusetts, USA where the DES cancer link was established 40 years ago, is making history again with the first DES Breast Cancer court cases on behalf of 53 DES daughters.
The lawyers at Aaron M. Levine & Associates law firm, after 50 years of successfully representing hundreds of DES daughters for infertility, vaginal and cervical cancer, and preterm delivery, have turned their attention to the risk of DES breast cancer in DES daughters.
Aaron M.Levine & Associates are the only law firm in America taking this focus and investment. They are currently representing DES daughters for their breast cancer injuries and are accepting new cases for review and evaluation.
The United States Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the most recent national study sponsored by NIH, (Palmer J, Wise L, Hatch E, et al. “Prenatal diethylstilbestrol exposure and risk of breast cancer.” Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 2006;15(8):1509-1514.) concluded that DES daughters over the age of 40 are at a significantly increased risk for breast cancer.
In confirming the Palmer study in court as a valid and important reopening of the never-ending DES tragedy, Dr. Adami stated:
” so the bottom line of this is, it provides strong evidence that DES exposure increases the risk, and that the risk increase starts sometime around age 40 and then grows as women get older.”
Diethylstilbestrol, primarily promoted by Eli Lilly and Company and E.R. Squibb & Sons (the predecessor to Bristol-Myers Squibb) was given to millions of pregnant women in the 1950’s and 1960’s and was contraindicated for use in pregnancy in 1971 when it was discovered to cause cancer and malformations of the reproductive tract. Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick recently declared “DES Awareness Week” in July 2011 commemorating the experience of DES daughters and warning of breast cancer risks.
The trial taking place in federal court opened on September, 07th 2011 and continues until September, 23rd 2011 as the 53 DES daughters involved put on further biology, toxicology, oncology, and obstetrics and gynaecology experts to support Dr. Adami’s opinion of this substantial DES breast cancer risk in the daughters.
” There has been little press coverage and apparently little public attention. The chemical companies prefer it that way. It’s just two lawyers for the plaintiffs and about 20 lawyers representing the chemical companies in the court room! “
comments DES Info, a group created by several DES daughters as a way to proactively share information about Diethylstilbestrol.
Show your support for the Historic DES Breast Cancer Court Cases
The hearings are open to the public and support from the whole DES community is much needed.
If you can please:
Spread the word on your social media networks
Post your comments and messages of support on DES Info who is closely following and strongly supporting the historic DES breast cancer court cases
Respond to the DES Info call to attend the hearings especially on Monday 19th and Tuesday 20th September – The result of this hearing will be to determine if the first ever DES class action suit in the US will be allowed to go forward. There has never been one before, because a class action suit requires a commonality of injuries in the US.
The outcome of the historic DES breast cancer court cases in the USA will have repercussions not only in the USA but around the world as DES victims everywhere are struggling to get compensation for the devastating side effects of DES exposure.
My thoughts are with the lawyers, scientists and more importantly the DES daughters involved in the hearings. Somehow, they represent all of us.
The Boston Federal Courthouse is at: United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts — Boston 1 Courthouse Way Boston, Massachusetts 02210 – USA (617) 748-9152
The hearings will likely begin at 9:30 a.m. and go until 4:30 p.m. each day, with lunch in between.
Between 2010.09.10 and 2010.10.10, the National French Agency for the Safety of Health Products (AFSSAPS) conducted a DES survey aimed at assessing the knowledge of gynecologists and obstetricians regarding the complications associated with Dietylstilbestrol exposure as well as evaluate their expectations in terms of information campaign about this issue.
This survey was conducted in collaboration with the French National Federation of Medical Gynecology Colleges, the National College of French Gynecologists and Obstetricians, and the French Company and Gynecology Group for the Study of In vitro fertilization in France.
A total of 204 completed questionnaires were returned. Gynecologists who responded were generally aware of the consequences of DES exposure with 71% of them having at least one patient exposed to Diethylstilbestrol in utero.
AFSSAPS DES survey results
Analysis of the responses regarding the level of knowledge about DES exposure suggested that:
A majority of practitioners have an imperfect / limited knowledge of its consequences
Investigating DES exposure in situations which suggests potential exposure is not systematic
Genital anatomic abnormalities in boys exposed in utero are not well known by gynecologists
Knowledge of the risks faced by the third generation is very limited, yet it is important to continue monitoring these children to assess the multi-generational effects
The “memory” of the consequences of DES exposure is lost with the new generation of doctors
Recent data on the third generation is largely unknown
Almost half of the practitioners who responded requested a new DES information campaign
AFSSAPS DES update June 2011
As a result of the 2010 survey, AFSSAPS decided to publish a DES update aimed at DES exposed individuals and health professionals. The publication released in June 2011 emphasizes the gynecologists and obstetricians’ crucial role in recognizing DES exposure, informing their patients about its consequences and referring them to specialists for adequate care and monitoring. It also highlights the crucial role of DES patients in handing down the “record” of their exposure to the next generations.
The AFSSAPS 2011 DES update covers the following topics:
As a DES daughter and mother of 3 girls who may also be affected (only time will tell …), I really welcome these efforts from AFSSAPS and I believe this is a very important document which will serve as a reference for years to come. The results of the survey and the update are available to download from the AFSSAPS website in French. AFSSAPS is circulating this information through professional organisms to reach out to health professionals.
I sincerely hope AFSSAPS and the French government will follow through with additional efforts to spread the word, and reach out not only to all doctors, but also to the general public. With the recent Mediator scandal maybe AFSSAPS doesn’t want to make too much noise about the DES tragedy but at the end of the day it is our health and our children health which are at stake and we have the right to know.
The AFSSAPS DES Update 2011 was promised by one of their doctors who attended the DES conference in Paris in November 2010. It is very widely based on the Réseau DES France publication which followed the conference. It is an official text for gynecologists, obstetricians and doctors. The English translation has been coordinated by Réseau DES France and reviewed by Carol Devine (DES Australia NSW), Pr Tournaire and myself.
Thanks go to Pam Solere for her trust and encouragements.
June 09th 2011 marks a turning point in France for DES victims with a court verdict in favor of a DES Grandson who was born prematurely. This great news has been welcomed by the DES community and Action Groups from all corners of the globe. Fran Howell, DES Action USA Director, commented: “Louis’ win is a huge victory and around the world people are celebrating with him and his family“. We are all so happy for Louis and his mother Hélène.
Below is a translation of a Réseau D.E.S. France press communication – June, 10th 2011
After a first judgement against UCB Pharma, the Appeal Court of Justice confirmed the first verdict on June 09th 2011 : 1,7 million euros damages are to be paid to Louis’ family.
Hélène was born in 1958. Her mother was prescribed Distilbène® during her pregnancy, making her one of the 80,000 French “DES daughters“. In 1990, during the 6th month of her pregnancy, Hélène gave birth to Louis, severely premature and suffering from important sequels : his handicap is assessed as 80% ; he can neither read nor write, moves in a wheel-chair and needs constant help. He is yet another victim of the drug Distilbène®… taken by his grandmother in the 50’s !
We share Hélène’s satisfaction and relief that the prejudice has at last been recognized by the Appeal Court to enable her family to live onwards. She can now sleep at night knowing that her son’s future is assured.
This decision is all the more important that it is the first time the the Appeal Court has judged a DES Distilbène® case concerning the 3rd generation.
This victory is consecutive to a well-prepared medical file which proves :
Louis’ medical follow-up was in conformity to the 1990 protocols
that Louis’ condition has no other cause than his premature birth.
Finally, we are satisfied that the Versailles Court of Appeal confirmed the responsibility of UCB Pharma for their lack of diligence in commercializing Distilbène® on the market.
We again hope that this decision will bring a term to the difficult struggle for justice, started by Hélène in 2002.
In France, Distilbène® and Stilboestrol® (the commercial names for the diethylstilboestrol synthetic hormone – DES in abbreviation) was prescribed to 200 000 pregnant women to avoid miscarriages. 160 000 children were born from these pregnancies. For the “DES daughters”, the side effects are : sterility, miscarriages, premature births, cancers…
The drug Mediator remained on the market from 1976 until 2009 when the risk of fatal heart disease was known since the 1990s. French health experts now believe that Mediator developed for treating overweight diabetics, could have killed between 500 and 2,000 people before it was finally banned.
It stayed on the market despite a succession of warnings over its side-effects, which include heart valve disease and pulmonary hypertension. It was also hugely misprescribed, with doctors routinely handing out Mediator as an appetite-suppressant for people with common or garden weight problems.
A compensation fund was established by the French state for victims. But Mediator is not the first drug scandal!
Below is a translated article from Anne Levadou, President of Réseau D.E.S. France published in the Independant Web Newsletter “Rue 89”, June 08th 2011.
In order to avoid any major reform, the government is trying to convince us that the present Mediator scandal is the first major medical disaster. But let’s not forget that this is far from the first one : Thalidomide, Distilbène® came before Mediator… with every specific crisis, our society tries in the best of cases to find some specific reply. At the worst, to forget it.
The incoherence in dealing with health disasters leads to injustice and discrimination. The massive media coverage of the Mediator affair is parallel to the silence surrounding other victims. The denial of justice is not acceptable, for example, for the victims of Distilbène®, while this DES example is taught as a “model” of the mistakes not to be made.
Distilbène®, massively given to pregnant women until the 80s (1977 in France), has the perverse impact of not only affecting the women taking it, but even more affecting their children, and even grandchildren.
Let’s not forget also the victims of Lyell and Stevens-Johnson syndromes, rare reactions to drugs, leading to major damage to the skin and mucous membranes. It is inadmissible that all these victims – because their pathology is due to some other drug – should be “forgotten” and receive no compensation.
For the victims : a struggle against obstacles
Having no other choice, all these victims have to support, at their own costs and in media silence, years of personal procedures, medical examinations and cross-examinations in order to hope at the end to receive some recognition of the pharmaceutical company’s responsibility and some compensation for their injuries. At the issue, some discover that, because the risk was mentioned on the leaflet, that they have no legal recourse and their case is rejected.
However, as for Mediator, the serious effects have been proved. The permanent damages on health are the results of drugs or treatment approved by the official sanitary and political administrations and financed by the collectivity. Drugs represent an undeniable progress in our society, and the pharmaceutical industry contributes to the national wealth, but the serious side effects are in balance with the benefits made.
A “mutual pooling” of risks would be logical
Why not to-day, use the Mediator case to move towards a general response on the principle of global responsibility linked to the risks of taking drugs? The government must use this scandal as a lever to progress towards some definitive social solution to what is proved a collective risk.
The profits for pharmaceutical companies from the commercialization of a drug is assured by the solvency of the National Health Service which is itself financed by health insured tax payers. In the same way as professional risks, the costs of compensation for the victims could be automatically paid by the industries creating the risk. The mutual pooling of a collective risk, by the pharmaceutical companies concerned, would offer a double advantage : guaranteeing rapid compensation for the victims, but also, encouraging these companies to develop prevention measures.
The dissuasive effects of “class actions”
The Mediator scandal should also lead towards the possibility for victims to take collective legal action. The absence of collective procedures (“class action”) results in unfair personal struggles. While the victims of medical scandals are hoping for collective replies, why was this subject completely absent from the recent Drug Survey Symposium? It is certainly interesting to talk for hours about the code of ethics for drug representatives, or about providing doctors with updated information : whereas there would be an immediate auto-regulation effect from the sword of Damocles effect of “class actions” on pharmaceutical companies.
There is now an open choice : either our society offers a definitive response concerning the responsibility of drugs, or we will once again discover in a few years, or even in a few months, yet another drug scandal. As victims and citizens, we are expecting a wide-scale reaction and a truly political solution. Without this, Mediator will simply remain just another scandal.
Sophie Le Pallec, President of Amalyste association Anne Levadou, President of Réseau D.E.S. France Jean-Pierre Sueur, Senator of Loiret, France
In a bid to further raise awareness about the DES issues and reach a wider audience, we’ve created a new DES flickr page. It includes photos of DES events such as the recent DES Symposium at Massachussets General Hospital in Boston, DES adverts, pills, tablets and bottles, DES brochures and newsletters, DES graphs, press cuttings and much more.
flickr® is an online photo management and sharing application. Its primary goals are to help people make photographs available to those who matter to them, and to enable new ways of organizing images. It offers the perfect platform to share photos from around the world.
But flickr® is one of those ideas that depends on interconnectivity.
We would like to invite all DES support groups and activists to collaborate to this project by contributing photos to the new Diethylstilbestrol flickr page. By sharing as many images as possible we can create a comprehensive source of DES related photos and really show how far and wide the DES issues are affecting people’s lives.
By “Geotaging” the DES photos we can highlight on the DES Diethylstilbestrol Map where the DES community is taking action to break the wall of silence around the DES issues, as well as where the DES health concerns are being ignored.
DES Diethylstilbestrol flickr® page was created and is administered by Diethylstilbestrol, Journal of a DES Daughter.
If you haven’t done it yet, you can also join us on facebook and/or twitter. Our facebook community is the perfect medium to share views, photographs and DES stories. Follow us on twitter and keep up to date with everything Journal of a DES Daughter is doing.
Help us break the wall of silence around the DES issues by joining these social networks and encouraging your friends to do the same.
Listen to the short radio interview featuring Carol Devine, founder and coordinator of DES Action Australia (NSW), and Dr Jules Black, Queensland Gyneocologist and sexuality expert, about the silence around the DES issue and the difficulties to push for a much needed Australian DES National Public Education Campaign 10 years after the USA first DES national campaign launched in 2001. In Australia it is estimated that 740,000 people have been exposed to DES diethylstilbestrol, yet no such campaign has been held. These people are not receiving proper medical treatment, or making truly informed decisions about their healthcare, as a result.
“Culture of Silence on sex hormone link to cancer“ – Radio Interview about DES featuring Carol Devine and Dr Jules Black, produced by Annamarie Reyes April 05th, 2011.
Below is a short summary and a few quotes from this interesting radio interview from down under:
DES National Public Education Campaigns or the Wall of Silence
The USA has moved to legislate to make it compulsory that a DES National Public Education Campaign is held for DES affected communities. Dr Black explains that the USA acting first on public campaigns came out of increased pressure amongst affected women in the number of millions. In Australia he says “I found constantly with my patients a wall of silence”.
“Since the Food and Drug Administration approved this drug it was important for them to make sure this drug was ok (…). It wasn’t (…). There was a certain degree of cover up fear at first but then when the story came out and due to pressure by female organisations, support groups and so on, they admitted”, comments Dr Black. The FDA acknowledged the DES tragedy 40 years after they issued a warning about the DES cancer link.
The equivalent support group in Australia pushing for change is DES Action Australia (NSW). Carol Devine, the coordinator, explains the strugle to put the issue on the public agenda since the 1970’s when the issue came to light. The USA could not keep it quiet anymore. Too many people were affected by Diethylstilbestrol exposure. The USA went as far as holding a DES National Public Education Campaign in 2001 which led to legislate that research should happen and DES and potential DES affected people should be informed. “Over there”, comments Carol Devine, “there is a fantastic body of women called DES Action USA. They are all right behind making sure these things happen in the USA”. In Australia, Carol Devine sent all the documentation papers about the USA DES National Public Education Campaign to the Australian Federal Health Minister. A few days later she received the package back in her doorstep saying “We do not require these”. “It has been a total shut down on this issue in Australia and quite frankly this is a national disgrace” comments Carol. Advocates in Australia have no choice but take the matters to the Human Rights Commission.
What’s the situation in France and Europe?
In France and in other parts of Europe, the FDA warning issued in 1971 about the health concerns related to Di-ethyl Stilbestrol didn’t get heard and the drug continued to be prescribed to pregnant women until the late 1970’s early 1980’s. The support group Réseau DES France was established in 1994. Their first DES public education campaign was launched in 1997 with the brochure “DES Distilbène® Exposure, the questions you ask yourself” aimed at raising DES awareness amongst the general public. Since 1994 Réseau DES France has engaged in many areas (information, cooperation, advocacy and lobbying, and DES lawsuits to name just a few). They’ve achieved many results and successes such a the right to longer maternity leave for DES pregnancies.
In the United Kingdom, Ireland and the Netherlands support groups have also been created. DES Action UK launched a petition in 2009 to demand a Public Enquiry aimed at investigating the effects of the drug diethylstilboestrol (DES) on women. They collected 130 signatures. “The government statistics are hopelessly out of date and information is not freely or widely made available by the government” write the petition creators Nick de Bois and Barbara Killick.
I can’t stress enough the importance and crucial need for efficient DES National Public Education Campaigns to ensure all people affected by DES exposure are aware of its side effects for them and their children. Collaboration between DES Action groups is also very important. The silence around the DES issue poses health risks in itself as many people including doctors don’t even know what DES is, what the health risks are, and how to prevent them. With so many people affected by it, and so few aware that they have been exposed, it is the responsibility of our governments to raise public awareness of this global health catastrophe.
I wish DES Action Australia (NSW) the very best of luck with their battle for an Australian DES National Public Education Campaign and hope more DES daughters and sons will make their voice heard. We are not alone in this; Millions of people around the world have been exposed to DES so surely if we shout loud enough we will be heard not only by governments but also by fellow DES victims unaware of their DES exposure and its health risks.
Sources: Réseau DES France, DES Action Australia (NSW), DES Action UK
Diethylstilbestrol (DES) has affected and continues to affect in many different ways the health and lives of those who have been exposed to this drug more than 30, 40, 50 years ago. Cancer, infertility problems, ectopic pregnancies, premature labour, depression, genital abnormalities are just a few of the many delayed side effects of DES exposure; but what most DES victims share in common is that at some point in their lives they all had to face doctors who completely dismissed their DES concerns, doctors who disregarded their medical conditions as being a consequence of diethylstilbestrol.
Despite overwhelming medical evidence, DES continues to be dismissed by doctors
Over 10 million people have been exposed to diethylstilbestrol worldwide between 1938 and the late 70’s, early 80’s in some countries. After more than 40 years of research, there are confirmed health risks and side effects associated with DES exposure.
An entire generation of women have had great problems with infertility and pregnancy. Women and girls as young as nine years old have died from a rare form of vaginal cancer called adenocarcinoma, others have suffered from irreparable genital malformations. Many DES sons have experienced health problems including undescended testicles, epididymal cysts, and testicular cancer. Yet, many doctors dismiss a history of DES exposure as the cause of their patients’ conditions – even for those who were born in the timeframe the drug was prescribed to their mums before a health warning was issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1971 and even for those who have evidence that they have been exposed before birth to this carcinogen and teratogen.
When Michael Freilick founder of the National DES Sons Network said to his doctor he was a DES son, his doctor replied: “Forget it. It has nothing to do with your testicular cancer.”
When DES daughter Kathy saw her doctor to share her concerns about DES she was told that because she had been conceived a few years after doctors were supposed to stop prescribing DES, she couldn’t have been exposed. Yet her genital abnormality is only seen in DES daughters.
“I hear the struggles, the anger, the depression, the cries of “why me?” echoing from every part of the blogosphere. And these insensitive docs just blithely dismiss it as not a big problem! (…). And then, there are the stories of multiple miscarriages, stillbirths, and so on. Stuff I don’t even want to imagine, but I know is a daily reality to a lot of DES exposed women” writes Kathy in her blog “Women to women childbirth education”.
I recently gave a DES leaflet to my physician hoping it would make her more aware of DES and breast cancer risks for women of my age. She smiled when she read that DES was causing infertility problems. She commented: “Well surely you’ve not been affected by infertility problems with 3 daughters…”.
The lack of recognition of the risks and health issues associated with DES is very distressing for those who have to put up with the consequences of this drug disaster in their everyday lives. This is not only a burden for DES daughters and sons throughout their lives but it poses a health risk in itself due to the consequences of wrong diagnosis, or lack of preventive care which can sometimes lead to disastrous consequences.
Anne-Françoise Lof in her beautifully written book “Saskia or the mourning of a Distilbène baby” tells the sad story of her baby daughter born too early to survive at 22 weeks pregnancy. Anne-Françoise knew her mum had been prescribed Distilbène® during pregnancy, she warned her doctor. Yet, the high risk of premature labor was dismissed. The story of not only Saskia but many other premature babies shows the tragic consequences of some doctors’ misinformation and dismissive attitude towards diethylstilbestrol.
Before the FDA issued a warning that DES was not safe for mums and their unborn babies, many doctors happily prescribed a drug that had not been properly tested and some even continued to prescribe it long after the warning was issued. Others questionned its efficiency and raised their concerns about the possible side effects. Years later, now that many health problems have ruined and continue to ruin the lives of DES exposed individuals very few aware doctors acknowledge the link between diethylstilbestrol exposure and their patients’ conditions.
Many young doctors don’t even know about DES and its consequences. To them it’s something of the past that their predecessors have prescribed in the belief that it would prevent miscarriage, especially if the women had a previous history of miscarriage, bleeding during pregnancy or diabetes. Most DES daughters and sons know more about diethylstilbestrol than their doctors and end up in an awkward situation where they have to educate their doctors in order to get appropriate treatment and preventive care.
DES Aware Doctors List
Most DES Action Groups have compiled a list of doctors aware of the DES history and its devastating consequences. Back in 2001, when I asked DES Action UK if they could provide me with their doctors list they provided me with a list of only four aware doctors, all London based, yet it is estimated that more than 300,000 people have been exposed to diethylstilboestrol in the UK. In the U.S. the doctors list is a compilation of the names of aware doctors given to DES Action USA by its members who were satisfied with their care. These recommended doctors are not considered DES experts, but rather aware doctors who do not dismiss DES concerns. I have no doubt that if DES Action Groups were naming and shaming the doctors who dismiss the DES concerns of their patients the list would be a lot longer.
My DES pregnancy had an happy ending thanks to a fantastic, sensitive and well informed doctor / professor. Without him I wouldn’t be celebrating mother’s day today. So there are aware doctors out there who know how to help DES victims. If you know a sensitive doctor that you would recommend please contact your local DES Action Group and share his / her contact details. It may help others.
If only doctors could understand, be more informed, aware and sensitive to what diethylstilbestrol has done to people’s lives. Di-ethyl stilbestrol is not something of the past. It hasn’t gone away. Years after exposure, the consequences and health risks for DES daughters, sons and their children are still there. The delayed consequences of the drug are felt and will most likely continue to be felt for many years to come as reveal new research carried out to determine the impact on the third generation. DES daughters and sons want answers and recognition. We need, we demand sensitive, aware doctors who acknowledge the danger and continued risks of DES exposure. Is it too much asking? The FDA waited 40 years to acknowledge the DES tragedy. How much longer doctors will need to stop dismissing their patients’ DES concerns?
Sources: Women to women childbirth education, DES Gone but not Forgotten.
This week I am honoured to publish a guest post from Carol Devine, DES daughter, Founder and Coordinator of the Sydney based group, DES Action Australia-NSW, which formed in 1995. Many people, including those unaffected by Diethylstilbestrol I am sure will be interested in reading Carol’s post as it shows how long and difficult the road is for a DES activist advocating for the needs of DES exposed people in Australia.
DES Activist outside USA – An Australian Journey
It is my impression that in comparison with USA, the downplaying, dismissiveness and resistance by governments in countries outside USA to the DES exposure issue have been stauncher. In Australia, to the demise of our comparatively smaller DES exposed population, the DES problem has been minimised, even with the glib remark, “It’s only a problem in USA”. Cold and uncaring comments that disenfranchise DES exposed Australians, have possibly evolved from something that runs much deeper and are firmly entrenched.
My pet theory is: that from the time the DES cancer link was made in USA in 1971, until the time this causal link first reached the news media in other DES-affected countries, drug companies and those with vested interest exerted utmost damage control outside USA. In concentrated effort, every opportunity would have been taken within this bonus timeframe to use influence to ensure government ideas on managing the DES exposure problem would protect those companies. Those ideas by government would be “set in concrete” for all time. Just a theory of mine – it’s no rocket science! However, it seeks to explain those cold, uncaring comments and the horrific facts revealed when our DES Action group in NSW, Australia, accessed government documents. It might also explain the uncanny similarity in the worded government responses to DES Action UK and DES Action Australia-NSW.
To be frank, from my viewpoint, the journey for an activist advocating for the needs of DES exposed people to government is like “banging your head against a brick wall” – many times. However, there may be greater chance of some success by developing the strongest possible argument when lobbying government. This means having the best available information. For this, it means digging – a lot.
Digging for numbers
Citing the best feasible estimate of the extent of the DES exposure in Australia is absolutely necessary for government recognition of the DES problem. No numbers equates to having no significant problems, or even not to exist at all. In Australia, to obtain an estimate, the most reliable data sources are the general population health data (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare -established 1982) for incidence of clear cell adenocarcinoma vagina/cervix and the State Cancer Registries (prior to 1982). Reports offering an estimate by cancer experts to government have been found to be grossly inaccurate. Adverse drug reaction reports are also unreliable, since cases of the DES associated cancer are not always reported by medical professionals. Delving into government comments about any unusual data trends and investigating inconsistencies with data have been important. By delving it was found that in the early 1980s, a doctor phoned the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) to instruct that reports of DES associated cancer no longer be recorded. To our dismay, the TGA (Australia’s drug watchdog) complied with this.
Digging for history
It makes sense in advocacy to know the full inside story of previous management. In Australia, Freedom of Information applications were necessary to obtain committee minutes of the TGA in relation to how the DES problem has been addressed since 1971. The minutes are all-telling and disturbing for everyone affected by DES, uncovering many shocking revelations. However, the information contained is very necessary in providing a baseline for approaches in lobbying. These documents showed the TGA’s first decision was to take a reactive role to any media arising about DES, rather a proactive role in issuing media releases. This decision was made out of consideration of the possibility of creating alarm.
Our Lobbying Experience
With strong argument for improved management of the DES problem, the government still manages to duck and weave continually. The experience is of “going around in circles”, whilst at the same time, trying to become familiar with the unreliable government “machine”. Astonishingly, the DES issue is shoved aside by individuals holding government positions with roles appropriate to giving attention to the DES problem. In the trial and error process of lobbying, the problem is finding exactly where the DES issue can position itself. DES Action Australia-NSW has recently presented the DES issue for the attention of the Australian Human Rights Commissioner. In spite of the many negative aspects of the lobbying experience mentioned in this article, there is still to this day, no reason to stop these endeavours on behalf of DES exposed people.
Importance of networking
If situations and experiences are similar, the power of networking can never be underestimated. Together, there can be learning from each other’s successes and failures. It is my hope that by sharing our experience, it will encourage networking between activists for the DES cause, and in particular, between activists outside USA.