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DOW'S PROMISE TO PAY CALLED MAINLY PR PLOY

Dow Corning Corp.'s offer to help some women pay for removal of breast implants the company developed may turn out to be mainly a public relations gesture, say some lawyers.

The company's promise to pay up to $1,200 per woman for removal of the silicone gel implants will not shield the firm from lawsuits by women who claim they have been injured, the lawyers said. And, they said, the offer only will cover a fraction of the cost of removal."It's damage control," said Aaron Levine, a Washington lawyer who represents women suing implant manufacturers.

Dow Corning announced Thursday it is quitting the breast implant business. Questions have been raised over whether the silicone gel devices can cause health problems, including cancer and auto-immune disorders.

The company said it will pay up to $1,200 per patient to help defray the cost of having Dow Corning implants removed for women who cannot afford the operation and whose doctors say the surgery is medically necessary.

Levine and others said it often costs more than $9,000 to remove the implants.

Dow Corning Chairman Keith McKennon said the company will not require women to sign a paper promising to not sue in exchange for the $1,200.

"I've been concerned about any woman with Dow Corning implants who has no money and no insurance coverage but who needs an implant removal procedure," McKennon said. "We have now designed a program to help women in that situation."

Dow Corning, other manufacturers and many plastic surgeons say there is no proof that the implants pose a risk to health.

But Thomas Valet, a New York City lawyer whose firm represents women in implant suits, called Dow Corning's offer "an admission the implants are unsafe."

But he said a jury in a lawsuit against the company probably would not be allowed to consider the offer as evidence against Dow Corning.

"It's more than likely that evidence is not admissible," he said.

Federal courts bar the use of evidence showing defendants made "remedial repairs," Shapiro said. "The theory is, `Why discourage people from making repairs?' "