DES: The Bitter Pill

The unthinking development and tragic use of diethylstilbesterol from 1941 to 1971 and written by Robert Meyers.
A book published by New York Seaview/Putnam in 1983.

the-bitter-pill book cover image
Robert Meyers’ book provides an informative look at the medical, emotional, and legal ramifications of diethylstilbestrol.

Robert Meyers, President Emeritus, National Press Foundation, begins with the drug’s synthesis in England, and follows its popularization and marketing, there and in the US, as a treatment for threatened miscarriage – to the point that it was prescribed for women with no symptoms or history of miscarriage (some of those treated, in fact, were pregnant for the first time.)

The beginning of the end came in 1971 with the first published report linking DES to cancer in the female offspring of women who had taken the drug. The frenetic outcome included lawsuits by patients, FDA foot-dragging, and catastrophic medical treatment.

In Meyers’ view, DES twisted tale “is preeminently a story of people – the women who took it” and their families. All the other aspects- political, economic, medical – are “really elements that enter the funnel of American health care and come out on the doorsteps of American consumers.”

Rather than give the doctors’ role a hard going-over, Meyers takes a few shots (when a physician-interviewee puts on a white coat: “what was there about wearing that white coat? Did he speak better wearing the coat? With more authority?“).

More DES DiEthylStilbestrol Resources


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