Lifestyle & Belief

Thalidomide maker apologizes for causing gruesome birth defects


James Smith from Pound, Virginia, rubs his head while waiting for dental services with hundreds of others at the Remote Area Medical clinic July 27, 2008 in Wise, Virginia. Pound said he was born with birth defects due to thalidomide.


John Moore

For the first time, the German maker of thalidomide has apologized for ignoring birth defects caused by the drug, BBC News reported. Thalidomide was prescribed to pregnant women in the 1950s and 60s. But it was pulled from the market in 1961 after it was shown to cause birth defects such as shortened limbs, no limbs, blindness, deafness, heart problems and brain damage. Some 10,000 babies worldwide were born with defects caused by the drug.

“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,” Grünenthal Group chief executive Harald Stock announced, the Associated Press reported. “We ask that you regard our long silence as a sign of the shock that your fate caused in us.”

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However, thalidomide victims have dismissed the apology as a cold and calculating move. Thalidomide Agency UK, an advocacy group representing victims, told the Guardian that the Grünenthal Group is only apologizing now because they are being sued. Last month, an Australian thalidomide victim born without any limbs won a multimillion dollar settlement from the drug maker, the Associated Press reported.

But other victims say they are still awaiting compensation from the Grünenthal Group. "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," Freddie Astbury, the Thalidomide Agency's head consultant, told the Guardian. "Being disabled is very expensive and thalidomide people need help and care, and adaptations to their cars and homes. We just want people to live a comfortable life and that means Grünenthal have to pay for their mistake financially."