The German firm that made thalidomide has issued its first apology in over 50 years to the thousands born disabled as a result of the drug’s use, but a victims’ charity called for more tangible action.

Grunenthal’s chief executive Harald Stock said in a speech on yesterday that his company was “very sorry” for its silence towards the victims of the drug, which was sold to pregnant women as a cure for morning sickness in the 1950s and early 1960s.

An estimated 10,000 children worldwide were born with defects — including missing limbs — after their mothers took thalidomide, which was sold in nearly 50 countries before being pulled from the market in 1961.

In a translated copy of the German text published on Grunenthal’s Web site, Stock said he wanted to express his company’s “sincere regrets” and “deep sympathy” to all those affected, “their mothers and their families.”

“We ask that you regard our long silence as a sign of the shock that your fate has caused us,” Stock said in the speech.

“We also apologise for the fact that we have not found the way to you, from person to person, for almost 50 years.”

Stock delivered the speech at the inauguration of a special memorial to thalidomide victims in Stolberg, western Germany, where the company is based.

He said that the drug “was taken by many women who had no reason to imagine that it could seriously harm their unborn children.”

Stock said his company was taking steps to help the victims of the drug’s use.

“We have learned how important it is that we engage in an open dialogue with those affected and to talk and to listen to them,” he said. “We have begun to mutually develop and implement projects with them, to improve their living situation and assist in hardship situations easily and efficiently.”

But the apology was rejected as insufficient by the charity Thalidomide Agency UK, which represents people affected by the drug in Britain.

Freddie Astbury, the charity’s head consultant, said the company needed to “put their money where their mouth is” rather than simply express regret.

Astbury, who was born in Chester in 1959 without arms or legs after his mother took the drug, said: “If they are serious about admitting they are at fault and regret what happened they need to start helping those of us who were affected financially.”

(This article was published on September 1, 2012)
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