Do you know someone who has used thalidomide?

Even 50 years after the thalidomide scandal, there was no end

In 1970, the Aachen Regional Court stopped criminal proceedings against employees of the Grünenthal pharmaceutical company. It was about severe deformities of thousands of children due to a drug. The thalidomide scandal is part of the history of the Federal Republic - and is still having an impact.

Around 2,500 victims living in Germany

In 1970, the Aachen Regional Court stopped criminal proceedings against employees of the Grünenthal pharmaceutical company. It was about severe deformities of thousands of children due to a drug. The thalidomide scandal is part of the history of the Federal Republic - and is still having an impact.

The thalidomide trial came to an abrupt end 50 years ago: on December 18, 1970, the Aachen regional court closed the criminal case against the boss and eight employees of the then thalidomide manufacturer Grünenthal. After two and a half years, there was no end in sight.

But now the parents of the "Contergan children" born with severe deformities had reached a settlement: Grünenthal paid 100 million D-Marks (51.13 million euros). The processing of the drug scandal with around 2,500 victims still living in Germany is still ongoing.

Life expectancy of the injured party is much longer than initially assumed

Today the former "Contergan children" are around 60 years old. Many of them were born with shortened limbs. During their pregnancy, their mothers took the over-the-counter sleep aid Contergan, which has been available since 1957. This thalidomide-containing drug was taken off the market in November 1961.

Grünenthal's money went to a foundation, the federal government also paid 100 million D-Marks, but the sum has long been used up. Since 1997, the funds for the pensions have come from the federal budget. There was a significant increase in 2013. That made the situation easier for many. The occasion was an expert opinion on the consequential physical damage. The life expectancy of the injured party is much longer than initially assumed.

"We live with a body that is actually 20 years older"

There are now lump-sum payments and thus planning security, reports Georg Löwenhauser, the chairman of the Federal Association of Thalidomide Victims, which represents around 80 percent of those affected. They are grateful to the members of the Bundestag for the changes made by law. The software developer was also able to retire a few years ago. "My body has regenerated," says the 59-year-old. He has short arms.

Decades of heavy strain on joints, muscles and ligaments is noticeable: anyone who always has to lift a cup with their toes to their mouth because they have no arms puts strain on their joints. "We live with a body that is actually 20 years older," says Löwenhauser. Everyday activities take longer. "Many of us need help: getting dressed, shopping, even on vacation," he says.

New drug law as a consequence of the thalidomide scandal

As a result of the Foundation Act, claims against Grünenthal have expired. Some of them still wanted nothing to do with the pharmaceutical company, reports Löwenhauser. But he also says that Grünenthal now offers additional help in a foundation. The employees work "extremely unbureaucratically and quickly": For example, when a car or a kitchen has to be converted to make it suitable for the disabled.

As a consequence of the thalidomide scandal, a new pharmaceutical law was created in the Federal Republic of Germany in the 1970s, which is much more characterized by control and monitoring. Previously, there was no preventive test for the safety and effectiveness of the substances used. New drugs only had to be reported to the Federal Health Office at that time without a prior examination. Today - this has also become clear in the corona pandemic - there are legal requirements for monitoring. These do not end with the approval of a preparation. As soon as a drug is tested on people, the Bonn Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices must be involved.

Damaged people have long been encouraging studies on different vessels

In 2012, Grünenthal apologized to those affected - for the long silence. In the same year the "Grünenthal Foundation to support those affected by thalidomide" was established. In 2016, the state of North Rhine-Westphalia apologized to the Contergan victims for the role of the authorities. The country should have acted more courageously, more persistently and more quickly after the extent of the damage caused by the drug became known in the early 1960s, said the then Minister of Health, Barbara Steffens (Greens).

Those affected would like to have a greater say in the Contergan Foundation, which is in charge of them. There are three representatives from federal ministries on the Board of Trustees, two Contergan victims, but no doctors. For a long time, the victims have been suggesting a study of vessels that often run differently in their bodies. "Too often we have the impression that decisions are made overhead," says Löwenhauser.

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