Thalidomide was created by Grünenthal
Thalidomide seen as "wonder drug"
Thalidomide was used in the late 1950s and early 1960s as a "wonder drug" to treat morning sickness, headaches, coughs, insomnia and colds. Thalidomide was marketed in the UK under the name Distaval in 1958, and advertisements emphasized the drug's complete safety, using phrases such as "non-toxic" and "no known toxicity".
First thalidomide child born
The first thalidomide child was born to a Grünenthal employee in 1956 and evidence now shows that Grünenthal ignored and suppressed 24 different reports saying that Thalidomide was damaging babies in the womb.
Germany fails to regulate its pharmaceutical industry
As one of the Inner Six countries of the European Economic Community, Germany signs the Treaty Of Rome but is the only member which fails to enact any laws governing the safe production and distribution of pharmaceuticals.
Tens of thousands of women affected
Between 1958 and 1962 tens of thousands of women throughout Europe found that the baby they were carrying unaccountably miscarried, or, worse, after they gave birth were told it was stillborn.
Thousands more discovered that their babies had severe birth defects, missing arms, legs, or with severe reductions to these limbs, or even worse, damage to their internal organs, brain, heart, kidneys, intestines, genitals, etc. During 1962 record keepers began to count all of the children living who were born damaged by the drug. The only complete records are of those who survived long enough to participate in the national compensation schemes, which were established in Germany, Britain, Japan, Sweden and Australia in the 1970s. The difficulty in uncovering the full toll of the disaster begins with the unknown numbers of miscarriages and stillbirths (possibly up to ten times the number of live births), and the widespread practice of infanticide.
The Thalidomide injuries did not stop once the babies were born. At the age of fifty, the Thalidomide Trust's records show that around half of all survivors are coping with chronic pain - mainly from muscles and joints (musculo-skeletal pain), largely as a result of the challenges of living with missing or damaged limbs. For many, their bodies are deteriorating far faster than able-bodied people. Several have been told words to the effect "your body is getting the problems of someone in their seventies", which at forty to fifty years of age is not good news. At least a quarter are coping with developing neurological problems, tingling, numbness, and pain in their affected limbs. This means that a person may be holding a cup, for instance, and the next thing they know is it has fallen to the floor and broken, because of the numbness in their hand. For these survivors, the disaster is still slowly unfolding in their day-to-day lives.
Grünenthal scientists were not only negligent in failing to withdraw the drug when reports of problems came in, or for failing to test it according to the standards of the time, but more than most companies they were very well placed to anticipate the possibility that Thalidomide would cause birth defects.
Grünenthal initially denied claims that the drug hadn't been extensively tested according to the standards of the time, but once the scandal became undeniable, they sought to deflect blame and limit damage.
William McBride wrote to the Lancet
However, in 1961 an Australian doctor, William McBride, wrote to the Lancet after noticing an increase in deformed babies being born at his hospital - all to mothers who had taken Thalidomide.
Thalidomide was eventually withdrawn
In 1961 Thalidomide was eventually withdrawn after being found to be a teratogen - a cause of birth defects. 12 years later, the UK licensee - which was responsible for distributing the drug in the UK - reached a compensation settlement following a legal battle by the families of those affected.
Based on incomplete medical evidence and unrealistic expectations of Thalidomide survivors future needs, this settlement turned out to be grossly inadequate. The reason this settlement was so low was because the trial of Grunenthal was suspended before shocking facts we have recently uncovered were revealed in court. With all Thalidomide survivors in the UK now over the age of 50, the money available to them from various sources is no longer sufficient to deal with their rising cost of living and the dramatic deterioration of their health.
The German government failed to hold a public inquiry or share any information with its European partners and did nothing to stop Grunenthal continue selling the drug in Spain until 1965.
1968 - 1970
Grünenthal were brought to trial
Grünenthal were brought to trial and after three years the case was brought to a premature end. Despite the fact that there were mountains of evidence still to be presented it was announced that the defendant bore 'minor guilt' and the trial was 'not in the public interest'.
It is a scandal that Grünenthal were able to get away with killing thousands of babies and severely disabling thousands more without the evidence of its behaviour being examined in an open court. The documents that are now in the public domain were effectively buried away from public scrutiny. Were they examined, we contend that this would have ensured proper compensation for all thalidomide survivors everywhere. To make matters worse, a law was then passed in Germany protecting Grünenthal from further prosecution. This law still stands.
To this day, Grunenthal insists that the lack of a verdict in the 1970 trial amounts to an exoneration. Yet the judge's report concluded that its testing of thalidomide was inadequate by the standards of the day, its claim that thalidomide was 'non-toxic' and safe for pregnant women could not be justified by its tests and that Grunenthal WAS guilty of negligent conduct. A section of the report reads: "The overall behaviour publicly shown by the company, Chemie Grunenthal, did not correspond with the standards required of a serious and conscientious producer of pharmaceuticals".
In 2014 it was announced that there is to be a regional inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the suspension of the trial with the regional health minister admitting that there are significant 'irregularities' that need to be investigated and calling the 'role of the state' into question. We suggest that the evidence we have uncovered is serious enough to warrant a judicial review into the behaviour of Grunenthal and the Federal Government.
Thalidomide survivors outside Germany suffer
UK Thalidomide survivors advised by lawyers to settle out of court for 40% of a vastly inadequate figure with no account taken of the effects of inflation, due to the fact that crucial evidence was suppressed in Germany. Thalidomide survivors in other countries fared even worse.
The Flick Scandal
The German Government was rocked by Flick Scandal and Otto Graf Lambsdorff, then minister for economic affairs, was forced to resign after accepting bribes "for the cultivation of the political landscape". Otto Ambros was a key player in this scandal and was heavily involved with Grunenthal in the Thalidomide period.
2012 - 2013
Reports published - thalidomide survivors health declining rapidly
A number of extensively researched reports are published in Germany, UK and Canada showing that the health of thalidomide survivors is declining rapidly. Those reports can be accessed under the 'Latest' tab.
Grünenthal have been unlawfully protected by the German Government
To this day, Grünenthal have never accepted responsibility for the suffering caused by Thalidomide. On September 1st 2012, The Grünenthal Group released a statement stating that it "regrets" the consequences of the drug, which led to babies being born without limbs during the 1950s and 1960s. It states that the company was too shocked to reach out to survivors and asks forgiveness from those it damaged for its failure to do so. Although the statement was welcomed by some Thalidomide survivors, it is still not an acceptance of responsibility and Grünenthal still refuse to face up to its leading role in the thalidomide tragedy.
They misleadingly point anyone who contacts them to the fact that thalidomide survivors can apply to Grünenthal for pieces of equipment to assist with their needs. What they don't recognise is that most of our needs cannot be met by such items. On the claim form, thalidomide survivors have to demonstrate that they have applied to, and been turned down by, their own governments, social services and local charities. Only then will Grünenthal consider their claim.
The German Government recognise that thalidomide survivors within Germany have been grossly underfunded and contributes €120m per year to assist them. They were unable to obtain a contribution from Grünenthal. Thalidomide survivors just want to live a comfortable life, and in an ideal world that would mean that Grünenthal should be held accountable and pay for their mistake financially. Since they are protected from legitimate claims by German law, that responsibility now falls upon the German government in view of the fact that a former administration colluded with defendants in the most serious trial of the era, and interfered in the process of law, thus ensuring that justice was not done.