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Two Ontario sisters are suing a manufacturer of DES, a controversial drug given to pregnant women but later found to cause cancer and reproductive problems in their offspring.

Although the drug was prescribed to as many as 400,000 Canadian mothers-to-be prior to its withdrawal from the market in 1971, the lawsuit is the first of its kind in Canada.

"For us, money isn't the issue," Lara Kaufman said. "We want to raise awareness and, hopefully, open paths for many other cases to follow."

The timing is important because the Ontario government is about to adopt legislation that would prevent this sort of lawsuit in its province.

Bill 167 will make it impossible for people to sue for damages more than 15 years after an event has occurred. So for people whose symptoms do not manifest until after that time frame, such as recipients of tainted blood or of a drug such as DES, which affects the next generation, they will not be allowed to sue. Currently, claimants have two years to initiate legal action after the harm is discovered.

Ms. Kaufman was born in 1968, her sister in 1966. During both pregnancies their mother took diethylstilbestrol, a synthetic form of estrogen prescribed under the name stroboestirol.

Between 1941 and 1971, DES was commonly prescribed to women who, like her, had suffered a miscarriage. The drug was withdrawn after a study showed it was causing clear cell carcinoma, a rare form of cancer of the reproductive tract. Later, it became clear DES daughters could suffer serious fertility problems.

The sisters, because they're at high risk for cancer, have undergone twice-yearly gynecological exams since puberty. But it's when they decided to have children that their troubles began.

Ms. Kaufman got pregnant at the end of 1995, but suffered an ectopic pregnancy, where the fertilized egg lodges in the fallopian tubes instead of the uterus. Six months later, she suffered another ectopic pregnancy.

Deciding to bypass the fallopian tubes, Ms. Kaufman tried in vitro fertilization, but years of treatment failed. (Many DES daughters have malformed uteruses that prevent them becoming pregnant.)

Finally, she and her husband opted for surrogacy, paying a woman to carry a fertilized egg to term. They had twin girls who are now 20 months old.

Her older sister, Debbie Stern, had different problems, but they were no less traumatic. She was able to conceive naturally, but her twins were born just 27 weeks into the pregnancy. One of the boys weighed 1 pound 7 ounces, the other just 1 pound 5 ounces.

Extremely premature children is another hallmark of DES daughters because of a condition called incompetent cervix.

Patricia Stanford says the sisters' story demonstrates just how devastating DES can be. The Jacksonsville, Fla., lawyer has represented more than 200 DES daughters in lawsuits and has won out-of-court settlements for all of them.

The statement of claim, which contains allegations not yet proven in court, seeks damages of $1-million for each of the sisters and another $1-million for each of the twin boys. No statement of defence has been filed yet in an Ontario court.

The drug, the lawsuit alleges, was manufactured by Allen & Hansbury's, which has since been swallowed by Glaxo-Wellcome.

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