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Thalidomide apology rejected

September 1, 2012

Victims of thalidomide, which caused defects in thousands of babies, have called an apology from a German company too little, too late. Grünenthal marketed thalidomide to pregnant women to treat morning sickness.

Protesters against a Germany pharmaceutical company's new thalidomide monument
Image: picture alliance / dpa

A side effect meant about 10,000 babies were born missing arms or legs, blind, or with malformed organs.

Grünenthal unveiled a statue of a little girl with stunted limbs on Friday and formally, finally, apologized. Many German victims stayed away from the unveiling of the statue, calling it a public relations stunt.

"Fifty years of injustice is not to be assuaged by the most heartfelt apology, unaccompanied as it is by any compensation for the pain and suffering thousands of survivors endure every day," said Harold Evans, a journalist who campaigned to compensate thalidomide victims since the 1960s.

Charities estimate about 5,000-6,000 people are living with deformities, about 2,500 in Germany, where the drug was marketed as Contergan. Before thalidomide was pulled from the market in 1961, pregnant women in 50 countries had bought the drug.

'Our deep regret'

"I want to take this opportunity to express our deep regret over the consequences of Contergan and our deep sympathy for the victims, their mothers and families," Grünenthal CEO Harald Stock said at the ceremony. "We also ask for forgiveness for not reaching out to you from human to human for almost 50 years ... We ask that you see our long speechlessness as a sign of the silent shock that your fate has caused us."

Apology from Thalidomide Producer

A woman whose daughter, born without arms or legs, won a settlement against the legal successor to thalidomide's Australian distributor called the apology insulting. "Our family couldn't have gone into silent shock," Wendy Rowe told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. "We had to get up and face each day and every day and cope with the incredible damage that Grünenthal drug did to Lyn and our family."

The countries most affected included Germany, Britain, Japan, Canada and Australia. German thalidomide victims get a monthly pension of up to 1,116 euros ($1,400) from a trust to which Grünenthal contributes. The company claims to have paid out as much as 500 million euros to victims through 2010.

Plaintiffs in the United States have filed complaints against GlaxoSmithKline, Sanofi-Aventis, Avantor Performance Materials and Grünenthal, claiming birth defects resulted from their mothers' use of thalidomide. The thalidomide scandal triggered a worldwide overhaul of drug-testing regimes and boosted the reputation of the US Food and Drug Administration, which refused to approve it.

mkg/rg (AFP, Reuters)