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Thalidomide makers issue first ever apology to victims

Campaigners born with serious physical disabilities because of the drug have described the apology as “meaningless” as the company has not admitted any liability.

Phillipa Bradbourne, who was born without arms as a result of thalidomide, pictured in London in 1963.
Phillipa Bradbourne, who was born without arms as a result of thalidomide, pictured in London in 1963.
Image: PA/PA Wire/Press Association Images

THE GERMAN MANUFACTURERS of the drug thalidomide, which was withdrawn from the market in 1961 after being linked to serious birth defects, has issued its first ever apology to those affected.

Thalidomide was sold to pregnant women in the 1950s as a cure for morning sickness, but withdrawn after it emerged that it caused infants to be born with serious physical disabilities – including shortened and missing limbs, and malformations of the eyes and ears, genitals, heart, kidneys and digestive tract.

The company, Gruenenthal, has apologised for the first time over the drug’s devastating side-effects, but said that such consequences “could not be detected” before the drug was put on the market.

The chief executive of Gruenenthal Group Harald Stock said:

We ask for forgiveness that for nearly 50 years we didn’t find a way of reaching out to you from human being to human being.

We ask that you regard our long silence as a sign of the shock that your fate caused in us.

Stock was speaking in the city Stolberg as the company unveiled a bronze statue symbolising a baby born without limbs due to thalidomide.

However spokesperson for Irish Thalidomide Association and survivor Finola Cassidy told TheJournal.ie the comments were “condescending” to the victims of thalidomide and their families – who have had to deal with the consequences of the drug every day. “They haven’t had the luxury of being in shock,” she said.

Cassidy said Gruenenthal needed to go further than issuing a simple apology by admit liability for the drug’s effects and providing financial compensation to the victims.

She accused the Irish State of compounding the problem by failing to withdraw thalidomide from the market for seven months after Gruenenthal discontinued the drug in 1961, causing some people to be affected “needlessly”. Members of the Irish Thalidomide Association collectively commenced individual legal actions against the State in July, accusing the government of “weaselling out” of its commitments to victims of thalidomide.

Other campaigners have similarly dismissed the apology as insincere and insulting because the company had not admitted any wrongdoing, reports the BBC. Nick Dobrik, a member of the UK’s Thalidomide Trust said: “We feel that a sincere and genuine apology is one which actually admits wrongdoing. The company has not done that and has really insulted the thalidomiders.”

Gruenenthal has not ever admitted liability for the side-effects of thalidomide, saying that it had conducted all clinical trials necessary by law at the time.

Read: Thalidomide makers accused of ignoring birth defect warnings in Australian case>
Read: Irish Thalidomide Association members commence legal actions against State>

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