Thalidomide: German Manufacturer Issues Apology Half A Century After The Fact

Over half a century after it was discovered that the pregnancy drug thalidomide had a high risk of causing serious birth defects, the German company responsible for manufacturing the drug has finally issued an apology to families affected by the drug.

“In the name of Gruenenthal … 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,” Gruenenthal chief executive Harald Stock said at a ceremony in Stolberg, Germany.

Thalidomide, manufactured by German pharmaceutical company Gruenenthal, was primarily used between the 1950s and the 1906s. The drug was marketed as a counter to morning sickness, and it was once widely used before its dangerous side effects came to light. Sales of the drug were stopped in 1972 following a lawsuit, which Gruenenthal settled.

Because of thalidomide, thousands of infants were born with birth defects. Some were born with tiny arms and legs, and there was at least one instance where an infant was born with no limbs at all. In a slightly disturbing public relations stunt, Gruenenthal unveiled a statue of a boy with shortened arms at the ceremony in “memorial” to the victims of thalidomide.

Freddie Astbury, president of campaign group Thalidomide UK and himself a victim of the drug, said that the apology from Gruenenthal was too little, too late.

“It’s taken a long time for them to apologize. There are a lot of people damaged by thalidomide struggling with health problems in the UK and around the world,” he said in a statement on the group’s website (via CNN).

“So we welcome the apology, but how far do they want to go? It’s no good apologizing if they won’t open discussions on compensation. They’ve got to seriously consider financial compensation for these people.”