Drug Company Apology "Too Little, Too Late" for Thalidomide Victims

Wendy Rowe, mother of thalidomide victim Lynette, becomes emotional during a statement regarding an apology from the drug's manufacturer. (Photo: Michael Clayton-Jones)

Drug Company Apology "Too Little, Too Late" for Thalidomide Victims

Victims families and survivors of the drug Thalidomide widely rejected the first public apology from the drug's manufacturer Grunenthal, whose CEO Harald Stock expressed on Friday that the company had "sincere regrets" for the medical disaster and "deepest sympathies" for those harmed by the drug.

Thalidomide, which was marketed worldwide in the 1950's and 1960's as a cure for pregnant women's morning sickness and other ailments, caused thousands of babies to be born with extreme birth defects, including missing limbs, malformed organs and blindness.

For nearly fifty years, the company refused to publicly acknowledge or apologize for the disaster, but Stock on Friday asked victims to "regard our long silence as a sign of the shock that your fate has caused us."

Most victims were unimpressed.

"It's the sort of apology you give when you're not really sorry," Wendy Rowe, an Australian woman whose daughter, Lynette, won a recent financial settlement against Diageo Plc, the successor to thalidomide's Australian distributor,told the Sydney Morning Herald.

"It's also insulting that he wants us to believe Grunenthal had not apologised for 50 years because it has been in silent shock. I suspect he does not know what shock is. Shock is having your precious child born without arms and legs. It's accepting that your child is not going to have that life that you wanted for her," she said.

Court papers that surfaced during the Rowe lawsuit allege that Grunenthal was warned of birth defects nearly two years before thalidomide was withdrawn from the market.

"We feel that a sincere and genuine apology is one which actually admits wrongdoing. The company has not done that and has really insulted the Thalidomiders," UK victim Nick Dobrik told BBC radio. "And I think it's really important to understand that we have been fighting for justice for over 50 years and there's a lot of people who are victims of pharmaceutical companies, not just thalidomiders."

Quoted in the Globe and Mail, Freddie Astbury, president of the charity Thalidomide UK, said Grunenthal needed to "put their money where their mouth is" and compensate victims rather than simply saying sorry.

"If they are serious about admitting they are at fault and regret what happened they need to start helping those of us who were affected financially," said Mr. Astbury, who was born without arms and legs after his mother took the drug.


The Rowe family's legal firm, Slater & Gordon, called the drug manufacturer's apology "pathetic": "It is too little, too late and riddled with further deceit."

Rowe's settlement followed a A$50 million payment Diageo agreed to make in 2010 to 45 thalidomide victims in Australia and New Zealand, who sought help to cope with the mounting costs of care as they were living longer than expected.

The cases have been closely watched in the United States, where a complaint has been filed against GlaxoSmithKline, Sanofi-Aventis, Avantor Performance Materials and Gruenenthal, with several plaintiffs claiming their 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 U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which refused to approve the drug.

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