On the opening day of a class action brought by Australian women against pharmaceutical giant Johnson and Johnson, lawyers made a splash by referencing an email between French gynaecologists.
In it, one of the doctors is sending a group reply to a Johnson and Johnson marketing manager when he states he, “would not like my wife to undergo this procedure”.
He was talking about the use of surgical mesh to treat pelvic problems after childbirth.
Now a full copy of that email has been tendered to the court and it gives a full picture of the attitudes of these health specialists towards their patients.
In the emails, the doctors are discussing whether to ask women in detail about the impacts of surgical mesh on their sex lives when one of the doctors appears to resort to hyperbole to make his point:
“It is no less true that sodomy could be a good alternative!”
The correspondence goes on to to detail how one gynaecologist is reluctant to talk to middle-aged women with pelvic floor injuries about “fellatio, sodomy, the clitoris with or without g-spot” while another writes about “investments” being “remunerated”.
This email chain would be nothing more than a strange sideshow were it not for the Australian victims of surgical mesh who’ve spoken to the ABC about their experiences.
They tell of feeling like failures because they’re in too much pain to be intimate with their partners, of husbands who’ve been injured by mesh that’s pervaded women’s vaginal walls.
They tell of partners who’ve cheated.
They tell of marriages that haven’t survived.
Mothers have told us about the jobs they’ve had to give up from chronic pain, about the children they can’t play with or cook dinner for.
They’ve been told they’ve got “adverse effects”, when for them their lives have been ruined.
Many have returned to their treating surgeons to talk about their pain and suffering, only to be told something similar to what the French gynaecologists’ said.
One was told: “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.”
The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, maintains the mesh devices have helped many women suffering effects of incontinence and prolapse.
Yet this is not the first time the medical fraternity has had to deal with the fallout from problematic medical devices.
They’ve been through these hoops before with joint replacements, breast implants and cardiac devices.
Some doctors have broken ranks and spoken out, saying there was, “a collective failure of both the TGA [Therapeutic Goods Administration] and specialists”.
Urogynaecologist associate professor Chris Maher from the Royal Brisbane Hospital and the University of Queensland, wrote for The Conversation that some problems could have been avoided if devices were used under the supervision of medical ethics committees.
The TGA has tried to learn the lessons of the past.
Its recent review of Medicines and Medical Devices Regulation recommended a registry for all high-risk implantable devices, and this could include mesh.
But it says the Federal Government shelved such a registry because of cost and fear of unintended consequences.
The Government says it wants to consult further on how to manage and fund a registry.
While affected women would welcome the Government’s diligent approach this time around, they tell us they can’t understand a profession that would allow a potentially damaging product to be rushed to market but not rush a registry that would regulate the use of such products.