Do you remember the drug thalidomide? It was first launched in 1957 by a German company, Grunenthal. It was sold in 46 countries and marketed to pregnant women around the world as an anti-morning sickness pill. The drug was banned in the early 1960’s after it was found to cause deformed limbs in the children of women who took it in early pregnancy. Around 10,000 babies around the world were born with defects caused by the drug, ranging from malformed limbs to no arms or legs. An estimated 3,500 survive worldwide, and 31 of these are in Ireland.
Thalidomide sufferers are a tenacious bunch of people. They have lived all their lives with pain and disability and now as they enter their 40’s and 50’s, they are noticing a sharp deterioration in their physical condition and want the government to improve their ‘meagre’ compensation. In 1975 a settlement was made with the Irish government which comprised of a lump sum and a monthly pension for life to supplement the compensation awarded by the German government, which eventually accepted liability. While Irish authorities never accepted liability for the tragedy, the Department of Health was the regulatory authority for drugs when it was on the pharmacy shelves. The lump sums at the time, when those affected were around 12 years old, amounted to a few thousand euro. Depending on the level of disability, the pension now ranges from €16-€35 per day. A lot of sufferers are now in crisis and are having to leave work or are struggling on in jobs they can’t afford to leave. They are facing difficult life choices and need financial security as they struggle against rapid decline.
Governments all over Europe are sitting down with those affected by thalidomide to sort out a proper financial package and Irish survivors are hoping that the Department of Health will look sympathetically on their case. The Irish Thalidomide Association hasn’t gone back to the government for support in 33 years. Surely it’s not too much to ask that they should now be afforded the dignity and justice they so rightly deserve?
With thanks to Roisin Ingle of the Irish Times, for her informative article on this topic.