Through social media, dozens of “Thalidomide Babies” born or currently living in the United States began finding each other in 2011. Together we are working to correct the false narrative about thalidomide created in 1961 by American drug manufacturers Richardson Merrill (now Sanofi-Aventis) and Smith Kline and French (now GlaxoSmithKline). The American companies were licensed to manufacture, test and distribute the drug by German pharmaceutical company Chemie Grünenthal (now Grünenthal). That story, repeated by journalists and doctors around the world for decades, prevented most of us from knowing and/or proving the cause of our birth defects. Without proof, we were prevented from seeking compensation for the ongoing damage done to our health, self-image, relationships and economic security. By the time we finally learned the truth, Sanofi-Aventis, GlaxoSmithKline and Grünenthal invoked the statute of limitations for legal action to prevent us from ever being compensated for the tragic consequences of their actions.
Although Dr. Frances Kelsey, a physician and pharmacist employed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and her colleagues did their best to find the children damaged by thalidomide, their efforts were hampered by pharmaceutical executives who threatened to sue for libel. Historic documents retained by the US FDA document the political pressure surrounding the investigation pursued by US Congress in 1962. In the end, the U.S. Justice Department declined to prosecute those responsible for this preventable tragedy.
Most of our parents were reluctant to come forward for fear of intense media scrutiny. As a result, most of us grew up having no idea that our injuries were not “the way God made us” as we had been told.
In 2018, amid thousands of pages documents, we finally found the truth. Many of the documents were heavily redacted to protect the interests of the pharmaceutical companies, the doctors and hospitals that distributed thalidomide samples prior to and during the FDA’s New Drug Application approval process, and the U.S. Justice Department, which failed to prosecute the pharmaceutical companies and force them to compensate us for our devastating injuries.
Once we learned how our mothers got thalidomide in the United States, there was little we could do as individuals. In most cases, the statute of limitations for us to take legal action against the pharmaceutical companies had expired. Today, as a group, we are fighting to hold the drug manufacturers and the U.S. and German governments accountable for telling the truth and finally fulfilling their moral obligation to ensure our physical, emotional and financial security as we age much more quickly than our able-bodied peers.
You can help us by learning our story and spreading the news.
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