When it comes to the dangers associated with hormonal contraceptives, how is risk communicated to women? Back in the 1960s when the pill first came out, only the doctors and pharmacists received the information pamphlet included with birth control pills. The burden was on them to decide what information to share with women and what information to omit. This was a central theme of the 1970 Nelson Pill Hearings. What are the risks of the birth control pill and how do we inform women of these risks? Here is testimony from several experts about the issue of informed consent.
Dr. Hugh Davis (page 5928): “In many clinics, the pill has been served up as if it were no more hazardous than chewing gum. The colorful brochures, movies, and pamphlets which are used to instruct women about the pill say next to nothing about possible serious complications. The same can be said for the veritable flood of articles in popular magazines and books which have convinced many women that there are few satisfactory alternatives to these steroids and that careful studies have proved there is little or no risk to life or health in the pill… It can be argued that the risk benefit ratio of the oral contraceptive justifies their use under certain circumstances, but it cannot be argued that such a powerful medication should be administered without the fully informed consent of each woman.”
Dr. Roy Hertz (page 6039): “My view would be that the application of these medications in their present state of knowledge constitutes a highly experimental undertaking. That the individual called upon to take these materials, particularly for prolonged period of time, should be regarded as, in effect, a volunteer for an experimental undertaking. I think she should be so informed.”
Dr. John Laragh (page 6167): “I think we have to do everything we can to simplify communication, to use education, to use techniques of repetition, to simplify the package insert. We can only go ahead in this area, and with many other powerful drugs… by full disclosure.”
With so many doctors insisting that women be informed of the risks of using hormonal birth control, we now have concise, unbiased, and easy-to-read risk information that comes with every package. Or do we?