The Dow Corning Corporation is now learning first-hand a lesson that should have been ingrained in corporate policy. Stonewalling on safety complaints to federal regulators questioning your products' potential hazards is a quick way to the trash heap. That this could happen after Johns Manville Corporation's asbestos debacle, after the Dalkon Shield fiasco bounced the A.H. Robbins Co. into bankruptcy, is astounding.
Irresponsibility in high circles put Dow Corning in this position. Thus, it is a prudent move for the company to replace its top executives. Internal memoranda, finally released after great pressure, make it clear that Dow Corning's managers knew for decades about serious problems involving their breast implants. One memo, written in 1985 by a staff researcher, notified managers that "we have excessive personal and corporate liability exposure" without further testing of the implants' chemical formula, which could affect a large percentage of the 2 million women worldwide who have received implants.
In plain language, that means the company and its individual executives could be sued for a lot of money. Doctors had been making complaints since at least 1971, when a New Orleans patient's breast became irritated after a mastectomy and implant surgery. The implant had ruptured and its fluid, supposed to be of a thick consistency, had oozed out. Failure to address such complaints openly, and to inform doctors and their patients that the stuff in the implants could cause ongoing problems, should subject the managers who ignored the warnings to more than civil liability. Certainly to more than merely being replaced at the helm.