The German manufacturer of Philidonide, a drug that caused thousands of babies to be born with shortened arms and legs, or no limbs at all, has finally issued a belated apology of sorts. This comes 50 years after the drug was pulled off the market. According to Harald Stock, Gruenenthal Group’s chief executive, the company wanted to apologize to mothers who took the drug during the 1950s and 1960s and to their children who suffered congenital birth defects as a result. In this regard, he stated:
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.
The apology was made by Stock in the West German city of Stolberg, where the company is based, during the unveiling of a bronze statue symbolizing a child born without limbs because of thalidomide. The drug, which was sold under the brand name Contergan in Germany, was given to pregnant women to combat morning sickness, but it led to a wave of birth defects in Europe, Australia, Canada and Japan. It should be noted that Thalidomide was never approved for sale in the United States. Gruenenthal settled a lawsuit in Germany in 1972 — 11 years after stopping sales of the drug — and at the time voiced its regret to the victims. But for decades the company refused to admit liability, saying it had conducted all necessary clinical trial required at the time.
Sadly, the company is now reiterating that very same position, insisting that “the suffering that occurred with Contergan 50 years ago happened in a world that is completely different from today.” He says that the pharmaceutical industry learned a valuable lesson from the incident. Stock now claims that when it developed Contergan, Gruenenthal “acted on the basis of the available scientific knowledge at the time and met all the industry standards for the testing of new drugs that were known in the 1950s and 1960s.” A German victims group, with justification, rejected the company’s apology as too little, too late. Ilonka Stebritz, a spokeswoman for the Association of Contergan Victims, had this to say:
The apology as such doesn’t help us deal with our everyday life. What we need are other things.
She pointed out that while the 1972 settlement in Germany led to the creation of a €150 million fund for some 3,000 German victims, it was inadequate to compensate the victims. With a normal life expectancy of 85 years the money simply wasn’t enough. In many other countries, victims are still waiting for compensation from Gruenenthal or its local distributors. In July, an Australian woman was awarded a multimillion dollar verdict from UK company Diageo Plc, the local distributor of thalidomide. In that case, Lynette Rowe, now 50, was born without arms and legs after her mother took thalidomide, made by Grunenthal, for a month while pregnant. She had to work for a very long time for justice.
Incidentally, Thalidomide is still sold today, but as a treatment for multiple myeloma and leprosy. I have to wonder why this company – knowing the misery it caused – did what it did 50 years later. Maybe I am missing something here.
Source: NBC News
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