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The Bitter Taste of a Miracle Drug by Mercurio, Stephane

'The Bitter Taste of a Miracle Drug' tells the story of the back story of the fertility drug DES, and its serious side effects. This fertility drug was introduced as a 'miracle'drug, comparable to the invention of penicillin. The component of these fertility pills, diethylstilbestrol 'DES' is a synthetic estrogen that was developed to supplement the natural estrogen production. Prescribed by physicians for women who experienced miscarriages or premature deliveries, DES was originally considered effective and safe for both the pregnant woman and the developing baby. Reality proved otherwise, and both mothers and their children were exposed to serious health risks. This documentary tells the story of DES daughters. These women, whose mothers took DES, have serious fertility problems, increased cancer risks, and deformed uteruses. In his documentary Stephane Mercurio questions the dominant ideas on reproduction and motherhood, and reveals the flaws and arrogance of the medical establishment. Victims, doctors, professors and pharmaceutical representatives are interviewed, and they expose a history of misinformation, negligence and uncooperativeness. The film shows that much pain, anger and suffering could have been avoided if dominant discourses could have been changed in the past.

Social Interest
The film shows an interesting view of the rigidity, and even arrogance of the medical establishment in France. It also reveals the cultural differences between the countries discussed in this documentary. The Netherlands and the United States both have opportunities for DES victims to file for compensation, while France and Belgium are still in the process of requiring full acknowledgment for those harmed by this fertility drug. Another cultural issue that is highlighted is the dominant ideas on pregnancy and motherhood. Women are expected to become mothers and should do anything to accomplish this goal. This is the reason that DES was developed in the first place. Unfortunately, this discourse is still present with the daughters and granddaughters who initially suffered from it. In 'The Bitter Taste of a Miracle Drug' it becomes clear that people in general do not easily learn from their past mistakes, and that they cause pain and misery because of it.

Historic Relevance
Diethylstilbestrol was first developed in a laboratory in 1938 as a synthetic estrogen. It was used during 1938-1978 in several Western countries, including the US, Canada, Australia, France and Belgium. In France it was even distributed until the early 1980s. It was prescribed to pregnant women to prevent miscarriages or other pregnancy difficulties. It was thought that these pregnant women did not produce enough estrogen on their own, DES was considered a safe and would help these women deliver healthy children. In 1953 a published research by W.J. Dieckmann showed that DES did not prevent miscarriages or pre-mature births, and the drug was determined ineffective. In the early seventies it was known in the US that DES was a cause of rare vaginal cancer, and the drug was banned. In France, these studies were not acknowledged or unknown, leading to the further distribution of DES. Some physicians tried to expose the harmful consequences of DES to colleagues and wanted to inform the public, but they were hindered. Mostly the DES affair was either ignored or silenced in France, leaving numerous women suffer unnecessarily. The genealogical effects of this 'miracle drug' are still being researched today.

Mercurio, Stephane
Copyright Holder
Matthieu Laborde (ISKRA)
59 min.
Year of release
French, English, German

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