Thalidomide survivors reject apology


Irish Thalidomide victims have rejected an apology from the German company which invented the controversial drug which caused birth defects in thousands of babies in the 1950s and 1960s.

The Grünenthal Group yesterday said in a statement it “regrets” the consequences of the drug, which was used to combat morning sickness but led to the birth of children without limbs during the 1950s and 1960s.

Grünenthal chief executive Harald Stock yesterday said the company had failed to reach out “from person to person” to the victims and their mothers over the past 50 years. “Instead, we have been silent and we are very sorry for that,” he added at an event in the western German city of Stolberg, where the company is based.

Thalidomide was pulled from the market in 1961 after it was linked to birth defects. Many victims have only recently received compensation.

The drug was taken by some Irish women and there are 32 surviving Irish children who were born with birth deformities as a result.

The Irish Thalidomide Association described the apology as meaningless.

“Grünenthal have issued an apology while saying they did no wrong, this is meaningless,” the association said in a statement. “The Irish Government have compounded this by refusing both an apology and an acknowledgment of wrongdoing when they failed to have proper regulation of drugs and failed to remove the drug from the shelves for almost a year after all other countries had removed it.”

The Irish Thalidomide Survivors’ Society also rejected the apology.

“An apology will not give us back our childhood, or wrap full-length arms around our children or grandchildren to console them when they are crying,” society said in a statement. “It will not act as a painkiller when we are awake at nights suffering horrendous pain that no painkiller can cure. It cannot give us dignity when our spouses and personal assistants need to help us change our clothes use the toilet or have a bath.

“For some it will not allow us to have a normal basic social, lads’ or girls’ night out without a mammoth planning exercise. It will not provide the finances to adapt are homes our cars or even have are clothes made to suit our damaged. it can not get our provide us with wheelchairs or any other helping tools to stop more deterioration in are bodies.”

Thalidomide was originally prescribed as a “wonder drug” for morning sickness, headaches, coughs, insomnia and colds.

Thalidomide babies often suffered missing or deformed limbs and extreme shortening of arms and legs, but the drug also caused malformations of the eyes and ears, genitals, heart, kidneys and digestive tract.

The apology was also rejected as insufficient by the Thalidomide Agency UK, which represents people who were affected by the drug in Britain.

Freddie Astbury, the charity’s head consultant, said the company needed to “put their money where their mouth is” rather than simply express regret. Mr Astbury, who was born in Chester in 1959 with no arms and no legs after his mother took the drug, said: “If they are serious about admitting they are at fault and regret what happened they need to start helping those of us who were affected financially.”

Thalidomide UK Agency says that there are 458 people currently in the UK who were affected by the drug, but that for every Thalidomide baby that lived, there were 10 that died.

An Australian woman whose daughter won a multi-million dollar settlement in July against Diageo Plc, the legal successor to thalidomide's Australian distributor, said the apology was an insult.

"It's the sort of apology you give when you're not really sorry," Wendy Rowe told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Lynette Rowe, now 50, was born without arms or legs after her mother took thalidomide for a month while pregnant. Her lawyers said Gruenenthal did not contribute to the settlement.

Additional reporting: PA/Reuters

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