Canadian women initiate lawsuit over unnecessary mastectomies

Posted Feb 23, 2012 by Leigh Goessl
A group of nine women in Canada have initiated a lawsuit against a health authority because they were subjected to unnecessary mastectomies.
A ribbon for cancer research
A ribbon for cancer research
The women are suing Eastern Health because their breasts were removed when they did not have cancer.
According to CBC News, the nine women say they underwent mastectomies after being told they had cancer, only to find out years later, their diagnoses were a mistake, connected with faulty testing. Not only did the women receive unnecessary mastectomies, but say they also went through other cancer treatments including chemotherapy and various types of x-rays.
The attorney representing the group of women, St. John's Ches Crosbie, has filed a lawsuit against Eastern Health. This lawsuit comes on the heels of a 2010 $17.5-million settlement won against Newfoundland and Labrador's largest health authority. The settlement stemmed from a class-action lawsuit filed for errors in breast cancer testing done between 1997 and 2005.
According to The Toronto Sun, the nine women named in the current lawsuit were a part of that settlement, however Crosbie says this case is different because "it looks at the issue of whether the women should have had their breasts removed."
"I had a double mastectomy done which I shouldn't have had done," Myrtle Lewis told CBC News. Lewis found out from her doctor long after the surgery had been performed that she had pre-cancerous cells, not the aggressive cancer she had been led to believe. "The good news, he [the doctor] said, is you're not going to die of breast cancer because you didn't have it," Lewis said.
This news came seven years after she'd been told both of her breasts were cancerous and she'd received the double mastectomy; Lewis' surgery was in 1999.
Various media reports indicate Crosbie says Eastern Health is refusing to allow the tissues to be sent by courier for the purpose of an independent expert examination. "It does make one wonder whether Eastern Health has truly learned some of the lessons of the Cameron inquiry and of the class action and of the whole scandal," said Crosbie.
Judge Margaret Cameron had headed the Cameron inquiry. Judge Cameron found the errors could have been possibly been detected early as 1999 if proper quality assurance and quality control policies been in place and followed at Eastern Health (courtesy of Edmonton Journal).
Eastern Health said it would allow an outside examination for the current case, but the agency wants the pathologist conducting the independent test to travel to its facility.
Eastern Health CEO Vickie Kaminski said the health authority will not allow the tissues off premises. "It is the only physical piece of evidence," Kaminski told CBC News. "If we had known that we were going to be needing two samples, we could have taken extra evidence," she said.
Kaminski added Easter Health wants to resolve the complaints, stating, "Something happened to them that should not have happened."
If an independent examiner travels to Eastern Health's facility, the costs of this would fall on the nine women, reported The Toronto Sun.
"Eastern Health is firm on its position that these original and only slides will not be removed from its facility," said Eastern Health spokeswoman Zelda Burt. "Further, it is difficult to understand Mr. Crosbie's position that having the expert come to an Eastern Health facility is increasing costs for the women who have filed the suit when, in such cases, if the suit goes in favour of these women, all costs are usually recoverable."
The plaintiffs' attorney says this is not cost-effective. "Now instead of paying the doctor for an hour to look at the slide, you have to pay the doctor 10 hours to come to St. John's and look at the slide and tell you if there was negligence. That's a barrier to access to justice," Crosbie said.
According to the Edmonton Journal, until this impartial testing is done, Crosbie said, "we don't know if we have a case." The unbiased testing would determine what went wrong in the diagnosis process and who is at fault.