Thalidomide Birth Defect Risks Result in Apology 50 Years Later

The makers of the morning sickness drug thalidomide, which was recalled more than 50 years ago, have issued an apology to those who continue to suffer from birth defects caused by their mother’s use of the medication during pregnancy. 

At the unveiling of a statue dedicated to thalidomide victims in Stolberg, Germany, Grunenthal officials said the company had been in “silent shock” for the last half century and only recently learned how much a public apology was needed.

The statue depicts a young girl in a chair on one side with hands, but no arms, and an empty chair on the other side. It was designed by Johannes Igel.

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“The memorial symbolizes an important milestone of a larger development,” said Harald F. Stock, Grunenthal Group’s Chief Executive Officer, at the statue’s unveiling. “It is a development towards an ongoing dialogue, ongoing moving towards one another, incipient efforts to understand and — consequently — to act together.”

Following the apology over the thalidomide birth defects, many victims told various media outlets that the action was insulting and did little those who were born with life-long health problems caused by the drug’s side effects.

Thalidomide was first released as a morning sickness drug in 1957. Four years later, it was removed from the market after it was determined that the thalidomide caused major birth defects when used during pregnancy. It was the first product that established medications could cross the placental barrier and cause harm to a fetus.

It is estimated that between 10,000 and 20,000 children were born worldwide with birth defects from thalidomide. It’s impact was limited in the United States because the FDA denied the drug approval, saying that it needed to be more thoroughly tested. However, the drug was given to doctors in the U.S. during its clinical testing phase and it is unclear how many children it affected.

Thalidomide is now sold under the brand name Thalomid and is used for the treatment of multiple myeloma.


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