Deadly breast implants

From the January-February 2012 issue of News & Letters:

Deadly breast implants

The 40,000 British women who received defective breast implants at private clinics are being betrayed by their government, which refuses to require the clinics to provide free consultation, removal and replacement. Only about 3,000 women who received the implants under the National Health Service can receive free removal and replacement of the Poly Implant Prothèse (PIP) implants, manufactured by a now-defunct French company that deliberately deceived quality-control inspectors. Doctors and patients have reported leaks, ruptures and diseases since 2005 but not until 2010 did Britain ban PIP implants because the silicone was industrial non-medical grade—not for use in humans.

Globally, 300,000 women in 65 countries received the implants in the past 12 years. France will pay for removal but not replacement. In January 2012, Germany and the Czech Republic also recommended removal, but are not offering to pay for it. These events are just the latest chapter in a complex saga of conflicting interests: women’s health, influence of the profitable cosmetic industry, and inadequate regulatory agencies. Although silicone implants have been used since the 1960s and regulated since 1992 in the U.S., in 2006 the U.S. based National Women’s Health Network reported that the Food and Drug Administration had “caved” on approval of new silicone breast implants, despite a lack of adequate studies on the long-term safety risks of these products. (http://nwhn.org/silicone-gel-breast-implants) In 2011 the French government reported that 5.5 % of the implants had ruptured in the first two to three years, five times the “industry standard.” Ruptures increase over the expected 15 year “lifetime” of an average implant.

There can be no question that women and all who care about them worldwide must demand thorough individual medical counseling, removal and replacement, free of charge, for all who received PIP implants. The whole situation makes one wonder: are women really free when choosing breast implantation? What if women were free to redefine what “beauty” and “attractiveness” mean in a truly new human society? Wouldn’t we then redefine “medical necessity”?

—Susan Van Gelder

From the January-February issue of News & Letters:

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