Grunenthal urged to compensate victims
German manufacturer should pay out victims of thalidomide after years of attempting to cover up its dangerous effects, says lawyer Peter Gordon.PT0M59S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2yl2u 620 349 December 2, 2013
Seconds after Monica McGhie was born, she was placed in a corner of the ward to die.
The baby had no arms or legs - deformities that would later be attributed to thalidomide, the sedative her mother was given during pregnancy.
Doctors said the outlook for the newborn girl was grim.
The long-running case has been settled for $89 million. Photo: Angela Wylie
''Then mum heard me cry, and said 'That sounds like a healthy set of lungs there. I want my daughter'.''
On Monday, the now 50-year-old looks back on a blend of happy memories and hard times. ''Mum and our family have struggled all our lives to make sure I can do things.''
Ms McGhie was among more than 100 Australians and New Zealanders living with severe physical deformities because of thalidomide who will share in an $89 million settlement after a class action ended in Melbourne.
Distaval, otherwise known as thalidomide. Photo: Science Museum
The British multinational owner of the company that distributed thalidomide in Australia, Diageo, agreed to the settlement.
But its German inventor and manufacturer, Grunenthal, did not contribute any money.
The over-the-counter drug was marketed as a sedative for pregnant women in the 1950s and 1960s. Their babies were born with severe physical deformities. Some have no limbs, damage to their nervous system, heart problems and a lower life expectancy.
"I never thought this day would come": Monica McGhie with lawyer Peter Gordon. Photo: Angela Wylie
Lawyer Peter Gordon, of Gordon Legal, said thalidomide was the ''worst pharmaceutical disaster in the history of the world'', and slammed Grunenthal for shirking its corporate and social responsibilities.
''The real dimension of the thalidomide disaster has been vastly underestimated, under-reported and under-rated,'' Mr Gordon said.
''We call on Grunenthal, above all other companies, to start, for the first time in its long and sorry history to do the right thing.''
Slater & Gordon lawyer Michael Magazanik said the class action would not continue after Diageo settled, but said Grunenthal should have taken blame.
''Every single Australian thalidomider was damaged by thalidomide made by Grunenthal in Germany and then shipped via England to Australia, yet Grunenthal refuses to pay a cent to its Australian victims,'' he said.
''There is legal action against Grunenthal in the UK, the US and Spain. We think time is running out for Grunenthal before its sorry secrets and embarrassing conduct are exposed.''
In July last year Fairfax Media revealed the German drug maker ignored and covered up repeated warnings that thalidomide could damage unborn babies. Files from the Grunenthal archives exposed a 50-year global cover-up.
An estimated 10,000 babies worldwide were born with severe physical deformities because their mothers had taken thalidomide.
Diageo spokesman Ian Wright said he hoped the settlement would be seen as an act of compassion and empathy, despite Diageo not having distributed the drug itself.
''It's been quite a long road for us to reach this agreement, but it's obviously been an extremely long road for people affected by thalidomide,'' he said.
Mr Wright hoped victims could live with a stronger sense of security, comfort and dignity.
Ms McGhie, who flew from Perth for Monday's settlement, said she ''never thought this day would come''.
The money will help her to hire carers. ''I will be able to have the amount of support that I really need,'' she said. ''One of the things I would like to do is take my mum on a cruise before time's up.''