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The Walking Wounded

By Quentin McDermott and Peter Cronau


Updated May 23, 2014 09:40:00

Monday 26 May 2014

“I want to see Johnson & Johnson in court. I want to see them punished for what they’ve done because I believe they knew well beforehand and didn’t stop putting these products in.” Australian patient

When the world’s largest medical device and diagnostics company discovers one of its top products is deeply flawed and endangering the health of thousands of patients, the decent thing to do would be to withdraw it from the market and help the people affected.

Three years ago Four Corners revealed the shocking health impact on patients in Australia caused by the failure of a so-called revolutionary hip replacement device. Patients told how the prosthetic implant had given them cobalt poisoning, as metal fragments polluted their bodies.

Next on Four Corners reporter Quentin McDermott reveals how healthcare giant, Johnson & Johnson, through its subsidiary DePuy Orthopaedics, deceived doctors and patients using its ASR hip replacement implant. Talking to doctors and technology experts, and analysing a trove of internal company documents unearthed in a major court case in the United States, McDermott shows how Johnson & Johnson/DePuy not only refused to accept evidence the technology was flawed, but attempted to obscure the severe problems it was creating.

The extent of the apparent cover-up is breathtaking. It began when respected surgeons worldwide reported problems with the implant to the company. Instead of listening to their warnings, the company told each doctor they were the only ones having a problem. Isolated and confused by what was happening, the doctors were in effect being told they had caused the malfunction. The company refused to employ a toxicologist to assess the alleged problems. When evidence suggesting the hip implant was doing damage continued to mount, the company ignored it, instead responding by boosting its marketing campaign.

Finally, it took a Vietnam War veteran to expose the company’s behaviour. After his hip replacement went wrong, Bill Kransky took Johnson & Johnson’s DePuy to court in the US. Suffering from cancer, he lived long enough to win his case and a major compensation payout to provide for his family.

In Australia, preparations are under way for the trial of a class action against the company making and selling the implant, on behalf of hundreds of patients whose hip replacements have failed. The revelations in tonight’s program suggest that they have a strong case.

The Walking Wounded, reported by Quentin McDermott and presented by Kerry O’Brien, goes to air on Monday 26th May at 8.30pm on ABC1. It is replayed on Tuesday 27th May at 11.00am and 11.35pm. It can also be seen on ABC News 24 on Saturday at 8.00pm, ABC iview and at abc.net.au/4corners.