Disabled by A Doctor

Auteur: Gepubliceerd op: 

First do no harm. Many in the medical profession know this essential part of the oath of Hippocrates by heart. As much as physicians try to uphold this value, sometimes things go astray. Driven by profit, pharmaceutical companies and biased physicians have manipulated the very people trying to heal into inadvertently causing pain. This is the story of the medical scandal that left many women irreversibly harmed.

Incontinence and pelvic organ problems are common gynecological problems, mostly experienced by women after giving birth. Previously, doctors had limited options for treatment, having only physiotherapy, lifestyle changes, and invasive surgery at their disposal. In 1998, vaginal mesh implants hit the market, developed by Swedish obstetrician Ulf Ulmsten. These implants were flexible plastic devices that act to support the vaginal wall and treat prolapse. In a short, simple surgery, this mesh is implanted in the patient and left to stay. It first appeared as an effective and convenient option to treat the conditions, and therefore quickly became standard treatment practice.

In many of these women treated, it was a successful operation with few side effects. However, over time it became clear that a population of patients treated with this mesh experienced extreme complications, leading to pain, disability, and even death. The mesh would erode through the vaginal wall, and subsequently cause severe harm by piercing the bladder, damaging nerve tissue, and creating chronic inflammation responses. Infections were prone to occur, leading to worse sequelae. This damage led to some women relying on strong painkillers on a daily basis, losing the ability to work, walk, and even take care of the family they were starting to build. Others eventually died of sepsis. Worst of all, this was not a reversible treatment. Since the tissue grows around the mesh over time, it becomes nearly impossible to remove the implant. If removal is successful, irreversible scarring occurs that leads to further complications. In the end, many women who trusted their doctor to treat a minor issue were left with unbearable consequences that could not be undone.

This story begs the question: how did such a dangerous device make its way to the market and subsequently be used in the treatment of nearly 4 million women worldwide? The answer is complicated, but points to shameful factors such as corporate greed and broken scientific integrity. The man who brought the device to the market, Ulmsten, was paid 1 million dollars to test the safety and effectiveness of his mesh invention by pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson. Although this company claims the grant was not dependent on positive results from the study, it is a conflict of interest that could have led to an incredible bias. Members of mesh guideline committees also took money from mesh manufacturers for research grants, speaker honoraria, and more. This is a shameful example of how aggressive marketing from profit-driven companies led to widespread harm and unethical medical practices.

Today, this situation is recognized as one of the greatest medical scandals of our time. Of the nearly 4 million women who received the vaginal mesh implant, approximately 200,000 of them suffered complications. Thousands of them have created lawsuits against hospitals and pharmaceutical companies. This situation serves as a lesson to the entire medical community, a striking example of what happens when the patient's best interest is not of top priority. Favoring profit over reliable and honest scientific research, leads to dangerous treatments being brought to the medical market, a market that should be regulated by strict, unforgiving safety regulations.