1978 DES Case: Mink v. University of Chicago


Plaintiffs have brought this action on behalf of themselves and some 1,000 women who were given diethylstilbestrol (“DES”) as part of a medical experiment conducted by the defendants, University of Chicago and Eli Lilly & Company, between September 29, 1950, and November 20, 1952. The drug was administered to the plaintiffs during their prenatal care at the University’s Lying-In Hospital as part of a double blind study to determine the value of DES in preventing miscarriages. The women were not told they were part of an experiment, nor were they told that the pills administered to them were DES. Plaintiffs claim that as a result of their taking DES, their daughters have developed abnormal cervical cellular formations and are exposed to an increased risk of vaginal or cervical cancer. Plaintiffs also allege that they and their sons have suffered reproductive tract and other abnormalities and have incurred an increased risk of cancer.

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division, Columbia US Law, No. 77 C 1431, March 17, 1978,

Mink v. University of Chicago, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Justicia US Law FSupp/460/713/2093161, 460 F. Supp. 713 (N.D. Ill. 1978)
October 13, 1978.

The complaint further alleges that the relationship between DES and cancer was known to the medical community as early as 1971, but that the defendants made no effort to notify the plaintiffs of their participation in the DES experiment until late 1975 or 1976 when the University sent letters to the women in the experiment informing them of the possible relationship between the use of DES in pregnant women and abnormal conditions in the genital tracts of their offspring. The letter asked for information to enable the University to contact the sons and daughters of the plaintiffs for medical examination.

The complaint seeks recovery on three causes of action.

  1. The first alleges that the defendants committed a series of batteries on the plaintiffs by conducting a medical experiment on them without their knowledge or consent. The administration of DES to the plaintiffs without their consent is alleged to be an “offensive invasion of their persons” which has caused them “severe mental anxiety and emotional distress due to the increased risk to their children of contracting cancer and other abnormalities.”
  2. The second count is grounded in products liability and seeks to recover damages from defendant Lilly premised on its manufacture of DES as a defective and unreasonably dangerous drug.
  3. Finally, the plaintiffs allege that the defendants breached their duty to notify plaintiffs that they had been given DES while pregnant and that children born from that pregnancy should consult a medical specialist. Throughout the complaint plaintiffs claim the defendants intentionally concealed the fact of the experiment and information concerning the relationship between DES and cancer from the plaintiffs.

Both defendants have moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim. We will deny the motions as to the first cause of action, and grant the motions as to the second and third causes of action. ” …

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