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Australia to apologize half a century after ‘Thalidomide tragedy’

STOCK PHOTO Image by Rebecca Lintz from Pixabay

SYDNEY — Australia will issue a national apology to all citizens affected by the “Thalidomide tragedy,” Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said on Monday, more than half a century after babies were born with birth defects when mothers took the morning sickness pill.

Thalidomide was the active ingredient in a sedative widely distributed to many mothers in Australia and around the world in the early 1960s. It was found to cause malformation of limbs, facial features and internal organs in unborn children.

“The thalidomide tragedy is a dark chapter in the history of our nation and the world,” Mr. Albanese said in a statement. “The survivors, their families, friends and carers have advocated for this apology with courage and conviction for many years. This moment is a long overdue national acknowledgement of all they have endured and all they have fought for.”

The thalidomide scandal triggered a worldwide overhaul of drug-testing regimes and boosted the reputation of the US Food and Drug Administration, which proved a lone voice in refusing to approve the drug, although it was distributed in the United States for testing. The British government in 2010 apologized to the victims.

Thalidomide, developed by the German firm Gruenenthal, killed an estimated 80,000 children around the world before they were born, and 20,000 more were born with defects.

An Australian woman, who was born without arms and legs after her mother took Thalidomide, in 2012 won a multi-million dollar settlement from Diageo Plc, the local distributor. In 2010, Diageo agreed to make an A$50 million ($32 million) payment to 45 victims in Australia and New Zealand.

Mr. Albanese will deliver the apology in the Parliament on Nov. 29. There are 146 Thalidomide survivors registered with the government, though the exact number of affected is unknown.

“In giving this apology, we will acknowledge all those babies who died and the families who mourn them, as well as those who survived but whose lives were made so much harder by the effects of this terrible drug,” Mr. Albanese said. — Reuters

Neil Banzuelo

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