BREAST IMPLANTS: Are Panel’s Findings Tainted?
The findings of a court-appointed scientific panel that last year found no link between breast implants and disease should be discarded because one of the members had a conflict of interest, attorneys representing women suing implant manufacturers charged yesterday. Plaintiffs' lawyers filed suit in Federal District Court in Birmingham, AL, yesterday, charging that the University of Ottawa's Dr. Peter Tugwell, one of the panel's four members, "had entered into consulting agreements with Bristol-Myers Squibb, an implant maker, at about the time the panel's report was being released." They said Tugwell received a $750 honorarium for taking part in a Bristol-Myers-sponsored arthritis seminar "and agreed to participate in the company's research on new arthritis drugs." Attorneys also said Tugwell solicited funds from Bristol-Myers, among others, for a professional meeting. Richard Eittreim, a lawyer for Bristol-Myers, dismissed the charges as "ridiculous" and a "desperate ploy [by] lawyers." The New York Times notes that Tugwell signed a conflict of interest disclosure statement when he was appointed to the panel, but the affiliation with Bristol-Myers came after he signed the statement. Eittreim also noted that the statement defined conflict of interests as "significant financial investment or close tie to a corporate defendant," and said Tugwell's involvement with the company by "no stretch of the imagination could ... be considered a significant financial investment or a close tie." Robert Gordon, a lawyer "who represents women with implants," said no one was accusing Tugwell or Bristol-Myers of intentional wrongdoing, but said "when all of Dr. Tugwell's contacts with the company are considered together along with the fact that he did not disclose them, it 'undermines the trust of the litigants' and throws the panel's findings into question." Gordon added, "It's not a lot of money -- I don't think that's what the point is. ... A number of people have settled their cases on the basis of this report. Now the women are feeling a little ripped off" (Kolata, 4/14).
New Decision, Please
The motion asks the court "to terminate the panel and invalidate its findings because 'Dr. Tugwell's activities have tainted the opinions of the entire'" panel (Manning, USA Today, 4/14). Sybil Niden Goldreich, who founded the Command Trust Network, which represents more than 400,000 women across the world in their breast implant claims, said, "It's time to eliminate the influence of industry money on the scientific process. The trustworthiness of the scientific community is at stake. So is the health of thousands of women. I don't know where the women are going to get answers now" ( Reuters/Detroit Free Press, 4/14). The Los Angeles Times reports that fewer than 6,000 U.S. women have cases still pending (Monmaney, 4/14).