The German company that developed a drug which resulted in thousands of congenital birth defects in the 1950s and 1960s issued their first ever apology on Friday, but those impacted by the medication's side-effects say that the statement was too long in coming and fell short of making amends for the harm caused.
The drug in question, a sedative known as thalidomide
that was marketed as a treatment for morning sickness in pregnant women, was manufactured by the Gruenenthal Group
of Aachen, Germany, according to Frank Jordans of the Associated Press (AP)
However, the medication, which was sold under the brand name of Contergan in Germany, resulted in a wave of birth defects, leaving thousands of infants with shortened arms and legs, or no limbs whatsoever, upon birth. Reuters reporter Annika Breidthardt said that an estimated 10,000 children were affected
Speaking during a ceremony unveiling a commemorative statue at the city of Stolberg on Friday, Gruenethal Chief Executive Harald Stock said that he and his company wanted "to take this opportunity to express our deep regret over the consequences of Contergan and our deep sympathy for the victims, their mothers and families."
"We also ask for forgiveness for not reaching out to you from human to human for almost 50 years," he added. "We ask that you see our long speechlessness as a sign of the silent shock that your fate has caused us."
While Geoff Adams-Spink, a victim of the drug and the head of the European Dysmelia Reference Information Centre
, a support group for victims of thalidomide or other drug-related limb malformations, told Breidthardt that the public apology was "an important first step" towards making things right, others did not have as warm of a reception.
Fifty-two year old Liverpool, England resident Freddie Astbury, who was born without arms and legs after his mother took thalidomide, told Jordans that it was "a disgrace" that it took the company so long to issue an apology.
Likewise, Reuters reports that Wendy Rowe, the Australian mother of a victim of the medicine's side-effects, called it "the sort of apology you give when you're not really sorry," and that lawyers representing her family said it was "pathetic... too little, too late and riddled with further deceit."
"The apology as such doesn't help us deal with our everyday life," Ilonka Stebritz, a spokeswoman for the Association of Contergan Victims, told the AP. "What we need are other things."
Harold Evans, a Reuters editor who also led a campaign for compensation of thalidomide victims while serving as the editor Britain's Sunday Times from the late 1960s, added in an interview with his colleague Breidthardt that, "Fifty years of injustice is not to be assuaged by the most heartfelt apology, unaccompanied as it is by any compensation for the pain and suffering thousands of survivors endure every day."