The canadian Tragedy
Thalidomide was synthesized in West Germany in 19541 by
Chemie Grünenthal. It was marketed (available to patients) from October
1, 1957 (West Germany) into the early 1960's. Thalidomide was present
in at least 46 countries under many different brand names. (See The many faces of Thalidomide for a partial list of those names.)
Thalidomide became available in "sample tablet form" in Canada in
late 1959. It was licensed for prescription use on April 1, 1961.
Although thalidomide was withdrawn from the West German and United
Kingdom markets by December 2, 1961, it remained legally available in
Canada until March 2, 1962, a full three months later. Incredulously
thalidomide was still available in some Canadian pharmacies until
- Thalidomide, was hailed as a "wonder drug" that provided a "safe, sound sleep".
was a sedative that was found to be effective when given to pregnant
women to combat many of the symptoms associated with morning sickness.
It was not realized that thalidomide molecules could cross the
placental wall affecting the foetus until it was too late.
was a catastrophic drug with tragic side effects. Not only did a
percentage of the population experience the effects of peripheral
neuritis, a devastating and sometimes irreversible side effect, but
thalidomide became notorious as the killer and disabler of thousands of
- When thalidomide was taken during pregnancy
(particularly during a specific window of time in the first trimester),
it caused startling birth malformations, and death to babies. Any part
of the foetus that was in development at the time of ingestion could be
- For those babies who survived, birth defects
included: deafness, blindness, disfigurement, cleft palate, many other
internal disabilities, and of course the disabilities most associated
with thalidomide: phocomelia (see FAQ).
The numbers vary from source to source as no proper census was ever
taken, but it has been claimed that there were between ten and twenty
thousand babies born disabled as a consequence of the drug thalidomide.
There are approximately 5,000 survivors alive today, around the world.
Never counted and never to be known, are the numbers of babies
miscarried, or stillborn, let alone the number of family members and
parents who have suffered over the years.
Around the world, in the late 1960's and into the early 1970's, the
victims of the drug thalidomide and their families entered into class
action legal suits, or threatened actions, against the various drug
companies who manufactured and/or distributed the drug, and they were
eventually awarded settlements. In most countries, these settlements
included monthly or annual payments based on the level of disability of
In Canada, the story was quite different. Canadian victims of the
drug were forced to go it alone, family by family. No case ever reached
a trial verdict. Rather, families were forced to settle out-of-court
with gag orders imposed on them not to discuss the amounts of their
settlements. This resulted in wide disparity in the compensation
amounts, with settlements for individuals with the same levels of
disability varying by hundreds of thousands of dollars.
In 1987, the War Amputations of Canada established The Thalidomide
Task Force to seek compensation for Canadian-born thalidomide victims
from the government of Canada. As Canada had allowed the drug onto the
Canadian market when many warnings were already available about side
effects associated with thalidomide, and as Canada left the drug on the
market a full three months after the majority of the world had
withdrawn the drug, it was felt and argued that the government of
Canada had a moral responsibility to ensure that thalidomide victims
were properly compensated.
In 1991, the Ministry of National Health and Welfare (now Health
Canada), through an "Extraordinary Assistance Plan" awarded small
compassionate lump-sum financial assistance grants to Canadian-born
thalidomiders. These payments were quickly used by individuals to cover
some of the extraordinary costs of their disabilities, and for most
victims, these monies are long gone.
Thalidomiders are now in their late fourties and they are experiencing
physical deterioration due to stress placed on their different body
structures, further limiting their abilities, often resulting in new
disabilities (see degeneration) , and therefore compounding the tragedy. The needs and problems of this unique population are many and overwhelming.
1. SUFFER THE CHILDREN: The Story of Thalidomide by the Insight team of THE SUNDAY TIMES of London -- THE VIKING PRESS, New York