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Is pulling laparoscopic power morcellators too little, too late?

On July 30, Johnson & Johnson, the most prolific manufacturer of laparoscopic power morcellators used in hysterectomy procedures, announced its intentions to pull these devices from operating rooms. The following day, Johnson & Johnson released a letter to doctors around the world advising them to cease using their laparoscopic power morcellators, and to return the devices to the company.

For months, a debate has raged over the use of laparoscopic power morcellators, which chop up potentially cancerous uterine material so that it can be extracted from the body in a minimally invasive manner. Research is indicates that when laparoscopic power morcellators slice up cancerous tissue, it can facilitate the spread of cancer to other parts of the body.

All medical procedures have risks, and there is certainly something to be said for the benefits of minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery. But with the largest manufacturer of laparoscopic power morcellators pulling its devices from the marketplace, the alarm has been sounded: the risks of laparoscopic power morcellators in fighting uterine cancers outweigh the benefits.

While getting a dangerous medical device out of operating rooms is certainly a step in the right direction for patient safety, the serious risks of laparoscopic power morcellators were not realized until thousands of procedures had already been performed.

Those who were operated on with the use of a laparoscopic power morcellator may have been exposed to an increased cancer risk. Pulling the devices can no longer help these patients.

But, a product liability suit could help those who suffered poorer treatment outcomes than they would have absent use of a laparoscopic power morcellator. Fair compensation for unnecessary pain and suffering, additional medical bills, and other harm caused by the dangerous device could be available. For those who succumbed to cancer spread through a laparoscopic power morcellator, it falls to family members to hold medical device manufacturers accountable.

The Washington Post, “Johnson & Johnson pulls power morcellator; surgical device had sparked controversy,” Reuters, July 30, 2014