The people who were harmed by thalidomide, the morning sickness medicine that was widely used throughout the 1950s and 1960s and was shown to cause severe birth deformities in infants, will get an official apology from the government of Australia.
On Monday, the government made the announcement that it would also be unveiling a national memorial site. The prime minister, Anthony Albanese, referred to the “thalidomide tragedy” as a “dark chapter” in the history of Australia and the world and stated that the apology was long overdue.
“We will acknowledge all of those babies who passed away and the families who are grieving for them, as well as those who survived but whose lives were made so much harder by the effects of this terrible drug,” Albanese said on Monday. “In giving this apology, we will do so on behalf of all of those babies who passed away and the families who are grieving for them.”
According to the Australian Department of Health, thalidomide caused birth defects such as “shortened or absent limbs, blindness, deafness, or malformed internal organs.” The drug was promoted to pregnant women in the 1950s as a sedative and anti-nausea medication. However, the medicine caused birth deformities.
The medicine was not tested on pregnant women before it was licensed, and the birth defect crisis led to increased medical oversight globally, including the founding of Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration. Specifically, the drug was not tested on pregnant women before it was approved.
It is believed that more than 10,000 children around the world were born with birth deformities as a result of the usage of thalidomide, and that around forty percent of these children died within one year of their birth. According to the TGA, “survivors of Thalidomide continue to live with the impacts of the drug today.”
“At the time, Australia did not have a system that was capable of analyzing the safety of drugs before they were allowed on the market. In spite of the fact that thalidomide was eventually pulled from the market, this occurred long after a significant number of pregnant women in Australia had previously taken the medicine.
On November 29, at the House of Parliament, Albanese will make the formal national apology to all Australians touched by the thalidomide disaster. According to a statement released by his office, the apology would be made “on behalf of the Australian government, parliament, and the Australian people.”
The next day will also see the unveiling of a national site of recognition, which will take place close to Lake Burley Griffin in Canberra.
Survivors of the thalidomide tragedy in Australia have expressed their gratitude for the apology, which they believe was long overdue. They have consistently demanded that successive federal administrations provide better support for their health requirements by increasing both budget and the number of services available to them.
Although the government has said that there are 146 thalidomide survivors registered with the federal Thalidomide Survivors Support Program, it has recognized that the precise number of persons who were impacted by the medicine is unknown.
A Senate committee report released in 2019 included a discussion of the requests made by survivors for a recognition site. The study’s first proposal was for a national apology.
According to the findings of the report, survivors believe that the governments of Australia have a “moral obligation” because those governments “allowed thalidomide products to be sold in Australia without proper testing and because when Australian governments were informed about the risks of thalidomide, they did not do enough to ensure that the products were removed and destroyed.”
According to the report, the Australian government did not immediately take action to destroy stockpiles of thalidomide or to ban the use of the medicine, despite the fact that the Department of Health was informed of the dangers of thalidomide in late 1961.
“When it became obvious in November 1961 that thalidomide was associated to birth defects and Distillers removed the medicine from sale, neither the state governments nor the Australian Government took rapid action to prevent the importation of thalidomide or to prohibit its sale. This is despite the fact that the relationship between thalidomide and birth problems had been known since November 1961. According to the report, “no efforts were made to recall & destroy product that was in doctors’ clinics or pharmacies,” which is in contrast to what happened in other nations.
“Thalidomide survivors were critical of Australian governments’ responses because if governments had acted more quickly, they potentially could have made a significant difference,” the research said. This criticism was based on the fact that the governments could have made a significant impact if they had acted more rapidly.
“While it is true that we cannot change the past or put an end to the physical suffering, I hope that these important next steps of recognition and apology will help heal some of the emotional wounds,” he stated.
It is impossible to conceive that a tragedy on the scale of thalidomide could occur in today’s world, and it is a sobering reminder of our responsibility to put safeguards in place to protect people from potential danger.