A terrible moment in the history of modern prenatal care is getting some attention, and possibly closure, today: the makers of thalidomide, a morning sickness drug that caused birth defects in the babies of the many mothers who took it, have issued an official apology.
This comes 50 years after the drug was taken off the market. In the late ’50s the drug was given to pregnant mothers in 46 countries including the UK, Australia and Germany, where the drug was manufactured by the company Gruenenthal. The drug was not prescribed in the US. In 1961 the drug was taken off the market when it became clear that it was causing birth defects– malformations to arms and legs. Thousands of children had been affected, up to 10,000 worldwide. The manufacturers maintained that they followed testing standards at the time but others say they did not do proper testing and did not adherer to standards.
The drug maker ended up starting a foundation to help compensate affected children, but some have only recently seen money and an apology has never been issued. Today the company apologized at the dedication of a memorial to thalidomide victims near the Gruenenthal headquarters in Stolberg, Germany.
Via a translation that appeared on NPR.org, here it is, from CEO Harald F. Stock: “On behalf of Gruenenthal with its shareholders and all employees, I would like to take the opportunity at this moment of remembrance today to express our sincere regrets about the consequences of Thalidomide and our deep sympathy for all those affected, their mothers and their families. We see both the physical hardship and the emotional stress that the affected, their families and particularly their mothers, had to suffer because of Thalidomide and still have to endure day by day.” He also said, later: “We also apologize for the fact that we have not found the way to you from person to person for almost 50 years. Instead, we have been silent and we are very sorry for that.”
The history of maternity care has some high moments that mostly relate to the greater advances in medicine–antibiotics, clean blood supply, sterile method– and some low moments, and this is one of them.
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