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German drug company says sorry

August 31, 2012

Grünenthal, the company that made thalidomide, a drug that left thousands with birth deformities, has begged for forgiveness. It is the first time the firm has apologized since the drug was banned more than 50 years ago.

Thalidomide drug victim
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

The German company Grünenthal apologized on Friday for manufacturing a sedative for pregnant women that left an estimated 10,000 babies with birth defects.

"We beg your forgiveness that for 50 years we never talked to you on a human level, and that we instead remained silent," said the chief executive of Grünenthal, Harald Stock, addressing victims during the unveiling of a monument in honor of the thalidomide victims in Stolberg, Germany.

The drug was introduced in the 1950s before strict testing regulations were enforced. Thalidomide had been popular because it helped expectant mothers to sleep and prevented morning sickness. But the sedative left the babies of mothers taking the drug with their hands attached to their elbows. It wasn't pulled from the market until 1961.

The Grünenthal company has made payouts to those affected, including 100 million deutschmarks (52 million euros) in 1971 to 5,000 Germans. But victims said the money did not cover their loss of earnings due to their disability. And, until now, Grünenthal has not explicitly apologized, but merely articulated its regret at the "tragedy."

Apology from Thalidomide Producer

The development comes one month after an Australian woman won a multimillion-dollar compensation claim against the UK firm Diageo Plc, which distributed the drug locally.

The settlement, for Lynette Rowe, aged 50, could open the floodgates for more than 100 cases in Australia and New Zealand, according to law firm Slater & Gordon.

sej/ccp (Reuters, dpa, AFP)