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 today.

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 and Britain.

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 abroad.

SOURCE:

WORKING MOTHER, July 1984, "The Contraceptive That May Make You Sterile," by Diana Hembree and Angus Mackenzie.