UK women cleared to sue Bayer over Essure contraceptive
Women in the UK who claim to have suffered harm after being fitted with Bayer's Essure contraceptive device have been cleared to pursue legal action against the company.
A judge gave the green light for the class action to go ahead on behalf of around 200 women who say they suffered pain, chronic bleeding, and other side effects from using Essure, which was approved in the early 2000s as a permanent form of birth control that did not require surgery. Others wishing to join the action can do so until 2024.
The coil-like device is implanted in the fallopian tubes in order to cause scarring that blocks the passage of eggs to the uterus and prevents contact with sperm.
The complaints allege that in some cases the tubes can be pierced during implantation, causing complications, and the device's metal parts could become dislodged and migrate to other parts of the body.
Some of the women claim that they had to have hysterectomies and suffered nickel poisoning as a result of the product.
Bayer has continually backed the safety of the device, drawing on the full body of scientific evidence that was used to secure regulatory approvals and the many thousands of women who still rely on Essure for contraception today.
Negative headlines about the device reached a peak when Bayer withdrew the device from sale in 2018, around the same time as a Netflix documentary was aired that claimed to shine a light on "lax practices and cover-ups" in the medical device industry - and dedicated a lot of air time to the Essure controversy.
Two years later, Bayer agreed to pay $1.6 billion to settle around 90% of US claims involving Essure, then numbered at around 39,000, without admitting any liability or wrongdoing.
Lawyers in the UK started work on their own class action around the same time, and the German group is also facing various other lawsuits around the world, including in Australia and the Netherlands, with plaintiffs in those countries numbering around 1,700 and 1,000, respectively.
In a statement, Bayer said its "highest priority is the safety profile and effectiveness of our products and we have great sympathy for anyone who has experienced health problems while using any of our products, regardless of cause."
It added, however, that it "stands by the safety profile and efficacy of Essure and will continue to defend itself from these claims vigorously."