Drug company knew thalidomide was harming babies 81



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A Melbourne lawyer has revealed the shocking truth about the thalidomide tragedy of the 1950s and 60s: the managers of the company selling the drug here in Australia knew the drug was dangerous and, worse still, they actively covered up the concerns.

“Thalidomide babies” suffered extensive birth defects as a result of their mothers being prescribed the drug to relieve morning sickness. More than 10,000 children in 46 countries were born with deformities as a consequence of thalidomide use and many more died soon after birth.

In a book to be released on Monday, Michael Magazanik reveals the smoking gun: a former employee of Distillers, a British Company, who was told to keep quiet.

Now in his 80s, Hubert Woodford told Mr Magazanik how his bosses at Sydney-based Distillers would sit around together, drinking whiskey and talking about how the health concerns would affect sales of the “wonder drug” in Australia.

At this same time, Australian obstetrician William McBride was working with German paediatrician Widukind Lenz to determine a link between birth defects and thalidomide. The theory was proved in 1961 but Distillers allegedly failed to act on the evidence for up to five months, leading to thousands of avoidable deaths and defects here in Australia and also overseas.

Mr Woodhouse said his superiors “definitely” knew about the risks.

This isn’t the first time the medical industry has been slow to act on evidence of harm. British epidemiologist Alice Stewart knew that x-rays during pregnancy caused childhood cancers, but it took doctors, who loved the convenience and certainty of x-ray, 25 years to accept her findings.

Silent Shock: The Men Behind the Thalidomide Scandal and an Australian Family’s Long Road to Justice is published on Monday. Preorder your copy here. A lawyer and former journalist, Mr Magazanik represented Australian thalidomide victims who successfully sued the British firm Diageo, which owns Distillers in 2013. In 2014, the Victorian Supreme Court signed off on a $89 million class action settlement for thalidomide victims in Australia and New Zealand.

Do you remember the scandal of the “thalidomide babies” and are you shocked to learn that the drug company did not act on evidence it was causing such harm? 

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  1. Yes remember I had just had my first baby all these little children born without limbs ni one knew what was causing it was 1962

  2. I have a thalidomide baby or lady now living next door to me, despite her condition she manages to live her life in the best way she can. Her life severely affected by this drug. Her birth defects include her being very short of stature and very short arms , with tiny hands that do not work properly. To put it crudely , she cannot even wipe her own behind and needs constant care. She will never have the same quality of life that we take for granted. No amount of money can her make her life the same as ours. It is a disgrace

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  3. This is not the first and definitely not the last time profits are placed above all. Our health and food guidelines are riddled with this same principle. Our government is forcing chemicals in our water that are being banned around the world. Vaccines in HUGE volumes are being insisted upon for our children. The links between these WILL be shown to have detrimental effects in the future, there is little doubt. But Big Pharma pays big money to governments, and the are forced to consume their products as a result I for one, will continue to fight.

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    • Robyn Green the damage done by thalilomide has absolutely nothing to do with your anti vaccine propaganda do you even know what defects those children were born with???

    • I so agree with you Robyn, Big Pharma don’t care about health it’s all about making them richer.

    • Robyn was only pointing out the similarities of both, that governments and drug companies release products that are not good for us and would seem that it is motivated by money and not for a better life

  4. At least they are still alive…[.Not that I’m minimizing the devastating effect of thalidomide]….not like the vaccine babies that died something like 50% of Aboriginal children vaccinated in the 60’s died…no one told us about that???????????

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  5. My daughter was born in the 60’s, I was very, very sick but my Doctor blatantly refused me any medication and for that I am eternally grateful!

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    • Yes in hindsight you would be very grateful though i bet you could have rung his neck at the time.

    • I was given a prescription for it in 1961 by a leading Macquarie st. obstetrician. Thank God I did not have it made up!

    • Just wonder what the effects of the 38 vaccines given to children by the age of 4 now, will be in 20 years time. I know the testing by drug companies is a lot more rigorous than it was, but who knows? Research is an ongoing thing.

    • My mother always said the same – she ended up in hospital with her pregnancies because she couldn’t keep food down. they told her it was subconscious and that she really didn’t want children, put her in isolation and refused visitors. But she was always grateful that they didn’t offer her thalidomide.

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