WHEN PHARMACEUTICAL giant Monsanto bought struggling rival G. D. Searle for its NutraSweet sugar-substitute patents, it did not expect to become responsible for millions of dollars in product liability related to the Cu-7 intrauterine device (IUD) marketed by Searle in the 1970s.

Due to scares over the long-term health effects of oral contraceptives, IUDs became both popular and profitable in the early 1970s. Although no one is quite sure how IUDs prevent conception—continuous irritation to the uterus preventing fertilized eggs from implanting, is one hypothesis—devices inserted into the uterus had been used since at least the mid-19th century. Each IUD innovation proved to cause serious fertility and health problems, culminating in the Dalkon Shield disaster, after which Searle competitor A. H. Robins declared bankruptcy to minimize ...

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