October 7, 2022

Thalidomide apology derided as too little, too late

Fifty years after the calamitous release of the sedative Thalidomide by the German company Gruenenthal, the company has finally issued an apology.

Fifty years after the calamitous release of the sedative Thalidomide by the German company Gruenenthal, the company has finally issued an apology. The CEO of the family-owned company, Harald Stock, unveiled a statue of a thalidomide child and said: “to express our sincere regrets about the consequences of Thalidomide and our deep sympathy for all those affected, their mothers and their families.”

Thalidomide was marketed around the world in the 50s and the early 60s– though not in the US – as a remedy for mothers’ morning sickness. An estimated 90,000 children were spontaneously aborted; 10,00 were born with malformed or missing arms and legs. Some victims were missing both arms and both legs. It was taken off the market in 1961. It is regarded as the world’s worst medical disaster.

Dr Stock claimed that his company could not have known about the awful effects that the drug would have upon unborn children: “Grünenthal has acted in accordance with the state of scientific knowledge and all industry standards for testing new drugs that were relevant and acknowledged in the 1950s and 1960s. We regret that the teratogenic potential of Thalidomide could not be detected by the tests that we and others carried out before it was marketed.”

Why did the company wait for 50 years before apologising the victims and their families? “We ask that you regard our long silence as a sign of the silent shock that your fate has caused us,” he said.

The announcement was greeted with derision as insincere, insufficient and insulting. An Australian law firm representing survivors , Slater & Gordon, issued a statement: “To suggest that its long silence before today ought to be put down to ‘silent shock’ on its part is insulting nonsense. 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.”

Sir Harold Evans, a former editor of the London Sunday Times, was particularly scathing. His newspaper campaigned on the issue when the scandal broke. “Thalidomide was incubated in ignorance, fueled by haste, propelled by reckless greed, concealed by deceit,” he wrote. “The company… [has] covered up a crime against humanity for more than 60 years.”

Michael Cook
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