From the Associated Press:
The German manufacturer of a notorious drug that caused
thousands of babies to be born with shortened arms and legs, or no limbs at
all, issued its first ever apology Friday — 50 years after pulling the drug
off the market.
Gruenenthal Group’s chief executive said the company wanted
to apologize to mothers who took [thalidomide] during the 1950s and 1960s and
to their children who suffered congenital birth defects as a result.
“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,”
Harald Stock said. “We ask that you regard our long silence as a sign of
the shock that your fate caused in us.”
The drug is a powerful sedative and was sold under the brand
name Contergan in Germany. It was given to pregnant women mostly to combat
morning sickness, but led to a wave of birth defects in Europe, Australia,
Canada and Japan. Thalidomide was yanked from the market in 1961 and was also
found to cause defects in the eyes, ears, heart, genitals and internal organs
of developing babies.
adults. They reacted as you might
Freddie Astbury, of Liverpool, England, was born without
arms or legs after his mother took thalidomide. The 52-year-old said the
apology was years long overdue.
“It’s a disgrace that it’s taken them 50 years to
apologize,” said Astbury, of the Thalidomide U.K. agency, an advocacy
group for survivors. “I’m gobsmacked (astounded),” he said. “For
years, (Gruenenthal) have insisted they never did anything wrong and refused to
talk to us.”
[. . .]
A German victims group rejected the company’s apology as too
little, too late.
“The apology as such doesn’t help us deal with our
everyday life,” said Ilonka Stebritz, a spokeswoman for the Association of
Contergan Victims. “What we need are other things.”
Stebritz said that the 1970 settlement in Germany led to the
creation of a (EURO)150 million fund for some 3,000 German victims, but that
with a normal life expectancy of 85 years the money wasn’t enough. In many
other countries, victims are still waiting for compensation from Gruenenthal or
its local distributors.
In July, an Australian woman born without arms and legs
after her mother took thalidomide reached a multimillion dollar settlement with
the drug’s British distributor. Gruenenthal refused to settle. The lawsuit was
part of a class action and more than 100 other survivors expect to have their
claims heard in the next year.
Attorneys for Lynette Rowe said in a statement released
Saturday that Grunenthal’s apology rang hollow.
“To suggest that its long silence before today ought to
be put down to `silent shock’ on its part is insulting nonsense,” the
statement reads. “For 50 years Grunenthal has been engaged in a calculated
corporate strategy to avoid the moral, legal and financial consequences of its
reckless and negligent actions of the 1950s and 1960s.”