"You have a lot of company in the blaming-yourself department," one woman recently told another BBer. "All I can tell you is---don't! As far as I'm concerned, our decision to have implants was fundamentally no different than deciding to wear makeup, pluck our eyebrows or cover the gray. . . . It was naive, perhaps, to have trusted the medical profession the way we did, but it was not stupid. We were lied to, pure and simple."

"We do what we're supposed to do (breed, feed the young, hunt for roots and berries), and what do we have to show for it? Stretch marks, saggy boobs and hunched shoulders. Which wouldn't be all that bad if only Nature also programmed us to worship and adore stretch marks, saggy boobs and hunched shoulders."
--From the bulletin board

The seminar at the Scottsdale resort is about breast implants. Two organizations, Phoenix-based Women's Informational Network and Tucson's Women Empowered Inc., have invited a who's who of the implant world for the two-day event. The speakers include doctors, educators, authors, litigants and, naturally, attorneys.

A banquet hall at the Holiday Inn Sun Spree Resort is filled with some 600 people, mostly white women, who are there to soak in a numbing onslaught of information.

The women range in age from their early 20s to their late 60s. Some appear to be pictures of health. Others are wheelchairbound.

Some, including Teresa Butler, are with their spouses or boyfriends. Many are by themselves.

Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods is the only local politician savvy enough to attend the seminar. Woods gives a short rah-rah speech about how this breast-implant mess is going to be a top priority for him this year, and he gets a standing ovation when he's done speaking.

Dow Corning first marketed silicone breast implants in this country in the early 1960s. At the time, the implants seemed a wonderful improvement over liquid silicone, which Japanese cosmeticians had began using in the 1940s to enlarge women's breasts.

After World War II, according to congressional testimony in 1990, about 50,000 women had liquid-silicone injections, which sometimes caused terrible scars, systemic illnesses and death.

The implants encapsulated the silicone in bags intended to prevent the gel from seeping to other parts of the body. But the implants have turned out to be far from perfect. Dow Corning memos released to the public in 1992--the same year the U.S. Food and Drug Administration ordered a moratorium on the production of silicone implants--prove that the company knew its implants bled, allowing the silicone to migrate in the body. The company also had kept to itself vital information about connections between autoimmune disease and implants.

The link was not made public until 1983, when a scientist at Stanford University revealed the connection between implant leakage and systemic autoimmune disease. The link, which is still being hotly debated among scientists, indicates that the lymphatic system collects escaped silicone in a complicated process that may impair a woman's immune system. Autoimmune diseases can cause thyroid disorders, skin tightening, lupus, mixed connective tissue disease and other maladies.

As of last February 1, women had reported 64,012 silicone and saline breast-implant injuries to the Food and Drug Administration, including 15,000 cases of rupture or leakage--mostly rupture. An FDA spokesperson estimates those numbers probably represent fewer than half of the actual injuries caused by faulty implants.

However you slice it, that's a small percentage of the approximately 1.5 million women who have gotten breast implants since the product's mass introduction three decades ago. And polls commissioned by a plastic surgeons' association indicate most women are content with their new shapes.

But the FDA statistics are terrifying to those ill women whose doctors once assured them of the implants' safety. What galls a vast majority of those women is that they got the implants by choice, not necessity.

By all accounts, about 80 percent of the women who have breast implants got them for strictly cosmetic reasons. The other 20 percent got their implants for postmastectomy breast reconstruction and related reasons.

More than 12,000 women have filed breast-implant lawsuits in federal and state courts nationwide, including more than 250 women in Arizona. Local attorneys confirm hundreds of Arizona women are contemplating suits against implant manufacturers and, in some instances, against their plastic surgeons.

The controversy is in such flux that a 12-page New York-based journal, Medical-Legal Aspects of Breast Implants, is published monthly. Some recent headlines: "Silicone Sisters Attract Implant Experts to Florida," "Topless Dancer Loses to Dow" and "Peanut Oil As Substitute for Silicone Still Under Consideration."

As the first day of the Scottsdale seminar ends, prominent San Jose, California, plaintiffs' attorney Sal Liccardo puts his best spin on the status of breast-implant litigation.

"I'm telling you, 1994 is going to bring the destruction of the myth that there's even a question of whether silicone implants are bad or not," says Liccardo, known nationally for his work in high-profile class-action cases.

"What we've seen so far is just the surface. The worst cases haven't reached the courtroom yet. Now, you're going to hear about studies in the next year that say 'no causal link' between silicone and disease. But when a study is being funded by the industry itself, how do you expect it to turn out? It's junk science."
No one from the "industry" is present at the seminar to refute Liccardo or the other speakers. It may have been instructive, for example, if someone from the American Medical Association had appeared.

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