Thalidomide Survivors Say Apology Is Insufficient

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Sept. 1 2012 2:55 PM

Thalidomide Survivors: Apology From Drug Manufacturer Is Too Little, Too Late

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Gruenenthal, the German firm that made thalidomide, issued its first apology in 50 years as it dedicated a memorial to the victims of the drug

Photo by HENNING KAISER/AFP/GettyImages

The German company responsible for manufacturing a drug that directly caused thousands of babies to be born with birth defects apologized Friday, 50 years after thalidomide was pulled off the market. Victims, often born with shortened limbs and missing arms and legs, quickly described the apology as insufficient, saying it was time for the company to begin paying out compensation, reports Reuters.

The drug, a powerful sedative, was given to pregnant women to combat morning sickness but was pulled off the market in 1961 after thousands of babies were born with defects. The drug was never approved in the United States, points out the Associated Press.

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On Friday, Gruenenthal Group Chief Executive Harald Stock apologized in name of the company during the unveiling of a memorial to the victims in Stolberg, Germany, near the company's headquarters. The memorial features a sculpture depicting a girl with malformed feet and no arms.. "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," Stock said. "We ask that you regard our long silence as a sign of the shock that your fate caused in us."

The mother of a victim in Australia quickly said the apology was “insulting,” adding that Stock “wants us to believe Grunenthal had not apologized for 50 years because it's been in 'silent shock'. I suspect he might not know what shock is,” reports the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Others, however, said ti was an important first step but the company must now begin offering much-delayed compensation.

"It's time to put their money where their mouth is," a 52-year-old thalidomide victim said, according to the AP.

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.

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