A Silicone Meltdown

January 01, 1998  ·  Michael Fumento  ·  Investor's Business Daily  ·  Breast implants

Pity the poor trial lawyers. Their golden goose — or more accurately, their silicone goose — is dying. The bad news just keeps coming.

In July, the European Committee on Quality Assurance and Medical Devices in Plastic Surgery declared that silicone breast implants do not cause connective-tissue illness, also known as "auto-immune disease."

Moreover, the committee said, "There is no scientific evidence that such things as silicone allergy, silicone intoxication, atypical disease or a ’new silicone disease’ exist."

Just weeks later, Britain’s Independent Review Group announced that it found no "conclusive immunological evidence" and "no epidemiological evidence" of implant-caused diseases.

Now comes what should be the coup de grace. A scientific panel of three women and a man, appointed by federal Judge Samuel C. Pointer at the behest of plaintiffs’ attorneys, sifted through some 2,000 medical documents, including 20 epidemiological studies. It found "no consistent or meaningful association" between implants and health problems.

Naturally, the trial lawyers and their allies are livid.

Sybil Nilden Goldrich of the Command Trust Network, an advocacy group, says the ill effects of implants are being kept "secret," and "the secret is in these real people who have these (implants) and not in a bunch of esoteric studies."

"We need reliable government scientists to find trustworthy answers as to why thousands of women are sick," she said.

In other words, since the panel came to the "wrong" conclusion, the studies it relied upon are esoteric and meaningless. Though the panel was government-appointed, it didn’t involve government officials, thus rendering its conclusions worthless. Presumably, had the panel included government officials, that would have been the excuse to dismiss its findings.

And as to why "thousands of women are sick," what Goldrich really means is that thousands of women have succumbed to the temptation of free money and joined lawsuits.

Some of these women are ill, simply because almost two million American women have had silicone implants. Out of a sample that large, there will be a number of sick people.

Yet the trial lawyers’ position never got any more "scientific" than this: "Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, prior to receiving implants, this poor woman sitting before you was healthy. After she got implants, she became ill. Therefore she deserves several million dollars in compensation."

Sometimes juries see through this nonsense. But often they fall for it. In some cases, they see a sick, destitute woman on one hand and a multibillion dollar company on the other and decide to play Robin Hood.

After a Texas jury awarded four women $ 1.5 million last year for allegedly getting sick from implants, one juror admitted to a newspaper: "We agreed that there was no way to prove one way or another about the sickness." They just wanted to spread the wealth.

Yet even as implant-makers lose billions of dollars, the real winners aren’t the plaintiffs, but the trial lawyers and the doctors who have forsaken the Hippocratic oath to be witnesses for the plaintiffs.

Meanwhile, countless women have been terrified by allusions to "ticking timebombs" in their breasts.

None of this need have happened. There was no reason for then-FDA Commissioner Dr. David Kessler to ignore his own scientific panel and essentially ban silicone implants, thereby dropping a chunk of bloody meat in shark-infested waters.

He now claims he’s shocked at the result.

"When the plaintiffs’ bar descended, they descended in such a way that it, it was a circus," Kessler said. The advertising was "enough to turn your stomach."

Well, take two Alka-Seltzers and call us in the morning, Doc. Meanwhile, Kessler’s successor can help close down the circus by lifting the implant ban.

And judges need to exercise the authority given them under the Supreme Court’s ’93 Daubert vs. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals decision. It allows them to exclude "expert" witnesses whose testimony flies in the face of sound science.

Some, including the appellate court in the aforementioned Texas case, have already done so. Between "Daubert" and Judge Pointer’s panel, judges have everything they need to shoo the breast implant buzzards out of the courthouse.