Saturday, 1 September 2012

Time to apologise for this ludicrous apology

It's ironic that the GrĂ¼nenthal Group, the German company behind the thalidomide tragedy of the 1950s and 60s, should choose to make a half-hearted apology to its surviving victims during the Paralympics 2012 - the world's largest stage for athletes with disabilities.

While the nation has pulled together and come out in huge numbers to admire and support these remarkable athletes, there has been much talk about the positive spin-off of the paralympics in terms of making this country more caring for those with disabilities.

So against this backdrop, this rather disingenuous apology 50 years after the event comes like a kick in the teeth. And it has understandably annoyed the Thalidomide Agency UK, which has campaigned tirelessly for victims of the drug. This morning I woke up to hear thalidomide survivor, Nick Dobrik speak most articulately on Radio 4's Today programme. "An apology", he said, "should be an unreserved apology and not a conditional apology. It is strange when a company gives an apology which is not the truth. 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."

The drug which was supposed to cure morning sickness was never properly put through its drug trials and many at the time were critical. And it wasn't until 1961 when an Australian doctor, William McBride, wrote to the Lancet after noticing an increase in deformed babies being born at his hospital to mothers who had taken thalidomide, that alarm bells started to ring. The drug was removed from the market later that year.

It took another seven years before any compensation was paid out in the UK by the distributer Distillers Biochemicals Limited (now Diageo). And this was only because Harold Evans, then editor of the Sunday Times, had launched a campaign on behalf of the sufferers. This said, the compensation figure finally reached was derisory - just £28 million.

There are no fewer than 458 people in this country suffering with the after-effects of one company's criminal incompetence, and the cost to adapt each and every one of these victim's lives must run into frightening numbers. But more significantly, let us not forget those who didn't survive. It is estimated that for every thalidomide survivor, at least ten babies were killed by the drug before or after birth.

So perhaps now, while the world's eyes are on the paralympians, this would be a good time for GrĂ¼nenthal chief executive Harald Stock to put his company's money where his mouth is and make a genuine, heartfelt apology.

Alex Pearl is author of Sleeping with the Blackbirds 

No comments:

Post a comment