Thalidomide Manufacturer Finally Apologises.
The German manufacturer of the notorious drug thalidomide that caused thousands of babies to suffer congenital birth defects has issued its first ever apology – 50 years after the drug was withdrawn.
Gruenenthal Group’s chief executive said the company wanted to apologise to mothers who took the drug in the 1950s and 1960s and to their children who were born with shortened arms and legs, or no limbs at all.
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.”
Mr Stock spoke in the western German city of Stolberg, where the company is based, during the unveiling of a bronze statue symbolising a child born without limbs because of thalidomide.
The statue is called “the sick child” – a name German victims groups object to.
The drug is a powerful sedative and was sold under the brand name Contergan in what was then non-communist West 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.
Exact numbers of drug victims are difficult to obtain but there are an estimated 4,000 in Germany, 400 in Britain and 40 in Australia – in addition to those born in other nations.
Thalidomide was pulled from the market in 1961 and was also found to cause defects in the eyes, ears, heart, genitals and internal organs of developing babies.
Freddie Astbury, from Liverpool, was born without arms or legs after his mother took thalidomide and the 52-year-old said the apology was years long overdue.
“It’s a disgrace that it’s taken them 50 years to apologise,” Mr Astbury said.
“I’m gobsmacked. For years, (Gruenenthal) have insisted they never did anything wrong and refused to talk to us.
“It’s time to put their money where their mouth is. We invite them to sit around the table with us to see how far their apology will go.
“I don’t think they’ve ever realized the impact they’ve had on people’s lives.”
Gruenenthal settled a lawsuit in Germany in 1972 – 11 years after stopping sales of the drug – and 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.
:: Thalidomide is still sold today, but as a treatment for multiple myeloma, a bone marrow cancer and leprosy.