For the first time the Federal Government has settled a compensation claim -before death - with a woman believed to be dying of the human equivalent of mad cow disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD).
And part of what is believed to be a considerable payout to the family of Mrs Margaret Bansemer, 55, includes an unprecedented component for pain and suffering. Mrs Bansemer received injections of the human hormone fertility drug, human pituitary gonadoptrophin (hPG), in 1971. They resulted in the birth of her third child, a son now aged 26. She is the fifth Australian woman - and the third treated in Adelaide in the 1970s - to contract what is believed to be CJD from this drug.
The Government compensation paid to the families of the other four women - whose deaths were definitively linked to their fertility treatment only after their deaths - did not include pain and suffering.
France is the only other country where CJD victims and their families have been compensated before death following treatment with another human hormone extract, human growth hormone (hGH). Since 1994, the French Government has indemnified such families for up to 2 million francs each. France has by far the world's worst toll of medically acquired CJD - 54 former child recipients of hGH have died of CJD. Four more are dying.
Although CJD cannot be diagnosed definitely until after death with a post-mortem examination of the brain, Mrs Bansemer's tentative diagnosis in May this year was based on her symptoms and her history of hPG use.
CJD symptoms can include staggering, jerking, memory loss and dementia.
Mrs Bansemer's symptoms developed 27 years after her treatment, making hers the longest known incubation period for CJD after hPG in the world. Incubation periods for hGH have topped 30 years in both New Zealand and America.
Mrs Bansemer's solicitor, Melbourne-based Mr Michael Glen, of the firm Rennick Briggs, said her case was treated as a damages case. The outcome was based on a balance of probabilities and was approved by a master of the Victorian Supreme Court.
"This is a landmark case in relation to Australian CJD where a woman on the Australian Human Pituitary Hormone Program who is still living has received damages for pain and suffering," Mr Glen said. The settlement was negotiated, without proving negligence, on a protocol established in June this year following another settlement deal with the Federal Government. In that deal, any signatory who was a recipient of hPG or hGH will be compensated for damages - but only if they contract the disease.
Under Mrs Bansemer's historic settlement agreement, brokered in October, she also continues to be eligible for past and future medical care from a trust fund set up in 1994 in the wake of a damning report on the Government-sponsored Australian Human Pituitary Hormone Program, which treated more than 2,500 Australians with both hPG and hGH.
"I am very pleased that it's all resolved and I can get along with looking after my wife," said her husband, Mr Peter Bansemer. "It's just unfortunate she can't appreciate what has happened."