From the March 21-27, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.
Worst Case Scenarios
A drug and its users stand trial
MANY WOMEN who have had negative reactions to Cytotec have ultimately chosen not to sue, but other women or their family members have. Most of the lawsuits regarding the use of Cytotec or misoprostol have been settled confidentially out of court, making legal records unavailable. The family of Tatia Malika French [see main story, p.16] , still reeling from her recent death, are now deciding whether they are going to bring suit.
Currently, however, there are more than half a dozen lawsuits in the works throughout the country. Some of these women had previous Caesarean births, which should have ruled out the use of Cytotec; others did not.
In Connecticut, Darlene Morton died at Yale New Haven Hospital in March 1998 after she was given Cytotec along with other labor-inducing drugs. Early the next morning, after she had been left alone, her husband found her dead on the floor. The baby boy was saved after an emergency C-section, but, left with severe brain damage, he died 2 1/2 years later.
"The real problem with this drug is that without FDA approval there's been no adequate standard for its safe use, and that's why there are disasters all over the country," says Michael Koskoff, an attorney representing Morton's husband. "The standards are just beginning to emerge over the last few years but in an ad-hoc, trial and error, dangerous fashion." Doctors can use off-label drugs without regulation or monitoring, he adds. "No one," he says, "is adding up the deaths."
Jack Early, a lawyer in South Carolina, has recently filed suit on behalf of 18-year-old Lindsay Michelle King, who died along with her baby in late October 2000 at Lexington County Hospital. King had been given several doses of Cytotec, causing her uterus to tear. Doctors performed an emergency hysterectomy, but it was too late to save her. "Everything was normal and suddenly it all goes to hell in a handbasket," said Early.
Kelli Betsinger and her family are suing her doctor and Beaufort Memorial Hospital in North Carolina after she was given two doses of Cytotec as well as Pitocin in September 1999 to induce labor. Her uterus ruptured so badly she is unable to bear more children. Her baby suffered profound neurological damage.
In Seattle, Wash., Christine Malone and her husband won a $2 million lawsuit against midwives who administered Cytotec in September 1999 and failed to take her to the nearby hospital before irreparable damage was done to her child. Initially a stillborn, her son Ian is severely brain damaged and needs 24-hour care. They are now suing her doctor, who gave her a handful of Cytotec to take at the midwife's birth center without him. "The fact that doctors used Cytotec outside a hospital setting is criminal," says Joel Cunningham, who represented the Malones in their suit against the midwives. "We've learned that there are worse things than actually losing a child to death, which of course is also terribly difficult to deal with," says Malone. "If a child dies, you can go through the grieving process. But we grieve every day; it's an open wound. Every day we see what he's been robbed of."
Other known suits, either in progress or which have reached settlement, have been filed in Oregon, Idaho, Texas, Georgia, Alabama, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.
In one southern state, a lawyer who has requested anonymity has taken the unusual step of filing suit against Searle, the maker of Cytotec. His client died in childbirth in 1999 after being given the drug, although the baby lived. An attorney in Oregon is also reportedly suing Searle, and two to three other lawyers are lining up to take on the company in the courts.
From the March 21-27, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper. Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network. For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.