18. THE LITTLE-KNOWN CONTINUING TRAGEDY OF THE IUD
Modern widespread use of the intrauterine device (IUD) for contraception
began in the early 1960s.
In 1974, the Dalkon Shield, a crab-shaped IUD, was removed from the
domestic market after being linked to the deaths of 17 women in the
U.S. The limited press coverage given the dangerous Dalkon Shield IUD
at the time led to it being nominated as one of the top 25 "censored
stories" of 1976.
In February 1984, a Minneapolis judge described the Dalkon Shield as
"an instrument of death, mutilation and disease" and approved
a settlement of $4.2 million to seven women. By December, 1984, A.H.
Robins, manufacturer of the IUD, had paid nearly $245 million to settle
7,000 cases; about 3,000 cases were still pending.
Judge Lord Miles also accused A.H. Robins of deliberately covering
up the health risks to women using the device.
Fortunately, because of a $4 million mea culpa TV and print ad campaign
sponsored by Robins and the publicity surrounding the cases, millions
of women now know about the dangers of the Dalkon Shield.
But, what most women do not know today are the serious hazards presented
by all types of IUDs still in use and being sold.
And there are an estimated 2.3 million women in the U.S. and more than
60 million women worldwide who use intrauterine birth-control devices
Many new medical studies suggest that all IUDs foster growth of bacteria
in the womb, which can lead to infertility and sometimes to life-threatening
infection. Sixteen medical studies from five different countries --
the U.S., England, Sweden, Thailand and Mexico -- confirm that IUD users
are more likely to suffer pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) than women
who do not use an IUD.
One of the gravest dangers of PID is infertility. In several Swedish
studies, 20% of women who experienced one episode of PID became sterile;
among women who had three or more occurrences, 60% became sterile. The
risk of PID-related infertility has been confirmed by studies in Taiwan
Because of IUD users' increased risk of pelvic infection and infertility,
many doctors are now urging women who plan to have children not to use
an IUD. Dr. Lillian Yin, chief of the Food and Drug Administration branch
in charge of insuring the protection of women who use IUD's, warned
that "women should use an IUD only if they have had all the children
they want." It is a warning that the mass media should provide
to the millions of women still buying and using IUDs in the U.S. and
WORKING MOTHER, July 1984, "The Contraceptive That May Make You
Sterile," by Diana Hembree and Angus Mackenzie.