Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Drug Maker's Apology Has a Muted Effect

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Drug Maker's Apology Has a Muted Effect

Article excerpt

After decades of campaigning by the victims of the morning sickness drug and their families, the drug's German manufacturer has apologized, but the reaction is that of too little, too late.

Decades of campaigning by victims of thalidomide, a morning sickness drug, have taken a new turn, with the first apology in 50 years to the victims and their families by the drug's German manufacturer -- and an incensed rejection of the apology as too little and too late from many of those it was intended to placate.

The apology was issued Friday by Harald Stock, chief executive of the Grunenthal Group, a family-owned pharmaceutical company that marketed the drug in the 1950s and early 1960s. It was withdrawn in 1961 after it was linked to birth defects, including shortened arms and legs, and in some cases no limbs at all, that campaigners say affected 10,000 babies around the world, mostly in Australia, Canada, Europe and Japan.

The apology came in a speech Mr. Stock delivered in the Rhineland town of Stolberg, the company's base, at the unveiling of a thalidomide memorial, a bronze statue of a limbless child.

Addressing the victims and their families, he said the company wished to "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."

According to an English translation of his remarks that appeared on Grunenthal's Web site, he added, "We ask that you regard our long silence as a sign of the shock that your fate caused in us." As for the company's delay in moving beyond its previous expressions of regret for marketing the drug to a direct apology to the victims, he said that in recent discussions with victims and their families, "we learned how much it is publicly desired that we express our deep regrets to those affected by thalidomide."

Although thalidomide was never approved for use by pregnant women in the United States, some victims are American.

One is Berrisford Boothe, 51, an associate professor of art at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, who described himself in a telephone interview as one of 26 known American thalidomide victims. …

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