Gruenenthal issues apology over thalidomide birth defects

German thalidomide maker Gruenenthal issues apology

Thousands were born with defects caused by the use of thalidomide during pregnancy

31 August 2012 Last updated at 21:41

The manufacturer of thalidomide has apologised to the thousands of people born with disabilities as a result of their mothers taking the drug.

Harald Stock, chief executive of German pharmaceutical company Gruenenthal, said it was “very sorry” it had remained silent on the issue.

The drug was sold as a cure for morning sickness in the 1950s and 1960s.

Mr Stock spoke as he unveiled a bronze statue symbolising a child born without limbs because of thalidomide.

“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,” he said at a ceremony in the western German city of Stolberg, where the firm is based.

“We ask that you regard our long silence as a sign of the shock that your fate caused in us.”
‘Financial compensation’

By the time the drug was pulled from the market in 1961, more than 10,000 babies worldwide had been born with a range of disabilities caused by the drug.

This included shortened arms and legs, blindness, deafness, heart problems and brain damage.

There are between 5,000 and 6,000 sufferers still alive, about 400 of them British.

BBC world affairs correspondent Mike Wooldridge says Mr Stock repeated the firm’s long-standing assertion that it acted according to the state of scientific knowledge and all industry standards for testing new drugs at the time, an argument challenged by campaigners.

Martin Johnson, director of the Thalidomide Trust, told the BBC that the news that the manufacturers were starting to acknowledge responsibility was welcome but they were still trying to perpetuate the myth that no-one could have known of the harm the drug could cause when there was, he said, much evidence that they did know.

Freddie Astbury, the president of Thalidomide UK, said: “It’s taken a long time for them to apologise. There are a lot of people damaged by thalidomide struggling with health problems in the UK and around the world.

“So we welcome the apology, but how far do they want to go?

“It’s no good apologising if they won’t open discussions on compensation. They’ve got to seriously consider financial compensation for these people.”

Some compensation has been paid, particularly by thalidomide’s British distributor.

Gruenenthal settled a lawsuit in Germany in 1972 and has voiced regret over the issue but has not admitted liability.

Compensation claims are still outstanding, including one key class action.

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