Poisoned Subjects Life Writing of des Daughters Emily Johnston When thousands of doctors began prescribing a drug intended to improve pregnancy outcomes to as many as 5 million patients in the 1940s, most medical professionals believed they were conforming to the highest standards of care. Few patients, one imagines, questioned the wisdom of the gynecologists and family practitioners who told them that this little white pill would "save" their babies.1 By the mid-1970s, however, the situation looked drastically different. That little white pill, diethylstilbestrol (des), had been proven to cause a rare vaginal and cervical cancer in young women exposed as fetuses to the drug their mothers took, and studies continued to demonstrate additional health risks. In the 1940s doctors had been saving babies; by the 1970s, 1980s, and beyond, women who took the drug, and their children, came to see themselves as "exposed" to what turned out to be a toxic chemical. They were victims poisoned by a pharmaceutical industry that cared more about profits than patients. They sought to get the word out about des, to make their stories heard, and to gain compensation from the industry they blamed for their injuries. Like all people who
Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies – University of Nebraska Press
Published: Apr 12, 2017
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