Daughters at Risk : a Personal DES History

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Anne Needham, who as a young DES Daughter had a hysterectomy for cancer, sued White Laboratories, makers of a DES drug. Lawrence S. Charfoos – an attorney in the litigation – and Stephen Fenichell detail the case and provide a history of DES development, research linking it early to cancer, the FDA’s approval, the pharmaceutical company promotion, and the medical community’s involvement.

This is the legal story of one of the first DES cases to go to trial, as told by the plaintiff’s lawyer and a journalist covering the case; and it conveys neither the victim’s feelings nor the drama of the experience.

Anne Needham was 20 when operations for the rare vaginal cancer now appearing in DES daughters left her unable to bear children, partially incontinent, and emotionally in turmoil. Six years later an Illinois court awarded her $80,000 in damages ; a decision that was reversed on appeal and remanded for trial; and there the story ends.

The authors competently recount the development of DES in England; its popularization by the Smiths of Harvard as a drug to ward off miscarriage; how the first cases of vaginal cancer were connected to DES; and the role of the FDA.

It seems however that “the particulars of Anne Needham’s personal ordeal and of the trial are vague and incomplete” and that “at the trial, the importance of the legal maneuvering is never quite established“.

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