Sunday, May 3, 2009

Johnson & Johnson Goes Into the Breast Implant Business

This year, the economy has been front and center on everyone’s mind. Bailouts, banks not lending, high unemployment, people cutting back, the mortgage crisis, etc., etc.

Natasha Singer wrote an article recently in the New York Times, Putting Vanity on Hold. Her article discusses the ramifications the downturn of the economy will have on cosmetic surgery. Will it slow down? Will people still make it a priority? The by–line of the article is:

Americans have been plastic surgery-obsessed. In a recession, will ideals of beauty loosen up?

I read one thing towards the end of the article that made me think at least one huge American company thinks not. In December 2008, Johnson & Johnson announced it will buy Mentor Corporation, one of the leading manufacturers of breast implants for about 1.1 BILLION dollars. Yes, that is 1.1 billion dollars in an economic downturn that some suggest is reminiscent of the Great Depression. Yet, Johnson and Johnson will buy Mentor Corporation for this huge sum of money. Johnson & Johnson must have predicted that Mentor’s profitable breast implants business is recession proof. Women will still be spending their hard earned dollars on breast implants.

When I think of the company Johnson & Johnson, I think of babies – baby lotion, baby bottles, and baby shampoo. Brings to mind the virtues of purity and caring. I went to their website and read their company credo –

“The values that guide our decision making are spelled out in our Credo. Put simply, our credo challenges us to put the needs and the well-being of the people we serve first.”

In this case, Johnson & Johnson has a great deal of work to do when they acquire Mentor Corporation. Given their credo they will have to devise a way that is accessible and transparent to provide Informed Consent to the women that will choose their new product –breast implants.

In my documentary film, Absolutely Safe, I raised several questions about breast implant safety. The quality and quantity of the safety studies on implants, the possible risks and complications and how much women understand what those are, why women choose this product and the question of long-term safety of breast implants, to name a few. One of the characters in the film, Wendi, chose to have her silicone implants removed after 20 years. Her implants had disintegrated into a sticky mess.

I continue to hear stories of implants gone bad, re-operations for ruptured implants, infection, hardening of the implants, and removal of the implant due to pain. There are serious and very real complications and risks with breast implants. And there are serious and very real unknowns about the long-term safety of implants.

Women deserve to be informed. They deserve Informed Consent. The Johnson and Johnson credo is needed here – “Our credo challenges us to put the needs and the well-being of the people we serve first.” Women and their health need to be put first. Let’s pray that Johnson and Johnson takes on that challenge. It is essential and so needed in the discussion of breast implant safety.

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