The consensus is that breast implants by the French company PIP should never have been used. German chemicals distributor Brenntag said it had supplied PIP with a construction and electronic sealant. This gel came at one fifth the cost of a medical-quality version, said a lawyer for the now defunct firm.
The industrial-grade silicone in some of its products was not formally approved by health authorities, and yet it is thought some 300,000 women around the world received PIP implants.
A Danish woman interviewed said: “It’s a terrible feeling not knowing if I have a toxin inside me.”
A Briton described her experience: “I have had pain and burning and real discomfort.”
A Spaniard said her discovery was torture: “Doctors at several different hospitals told me I had to go to the private place where I had the surgery done.”
Policy over general health steps to take varies according to country. The French government has advised the 30,000 women in France with the implants to have them removed due to concerns they might rupture.
Many governments have asked women to visit their doctors for checkups. Britain – where some 40,000 are concerned – has not taken the same position as the French, leaving it up to individual choice but saying it would pick up the NHS bill. Germany has echoed the French line but is still debating what it would pay for.
Empathy varies too. Attitudes to implants fitted for their aesthetic effect are different to those for women who have had breast cancer, for instance.
France and Venezuela’s positions are the clearest on proposing removal and paying for it. The French will reimburse replacement only in cases of prior cancer. Italy and Belgium will pay for extraction if considered necessary.
The French medical accountants calculate that all their removals would come to 60 million euros. But the possible consequences of leakage have not been medically or legally established – nor any potential additional costs.
An investigation was opened in December after the death of a French woman from cancer who had PIP implants.