Germans finally say sorry for thalidomide

Frank Jordans

The German manufacturer of thalidomide, which caused thousands of babies to be born with shortened arms and legs, or no limbs at all, issued its first apology yesterday, 50 years after pulling the drug off the market.

Grunenthal Group's chief executive said the company wanted to apologise to mothers who took the drug during the 1950s and 1960s and to their children who suffered congenital birth defects.

"We ask for forgiveness that for nearly 50 years we didn't find a way of reaching out to you," said Harald Stock.

"We ask that you regard our long silence as a sign of the shock that your fate caused in us."

Stock spoke in Stolberg, where the company is based, during the unveiling of a bronze statue symbolising a child born without limbs.

The drug was given to pregnant women to combat morning sickness but led to a wave of birth defects in Europe, Australia, Canada and Japan.

Grunenthal settled a lawsuit in Germany in 1972 -- 11 years after stopping sales of the drug -- and voiced its regret to the victims.

But for decades the company refused to admit liability, saying it had conducted all necessary clinical trial required at the time.

Thalidomide is still sold today, but as a treatment for multiple myeloma and leprosy.