Thalidomide: the Fifty Year Fight, TV review: The powerful story of the man who helped victims live with dignity


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The Independent Culture

There are many stories you could tell about thalidomide, the morning sickness drug. You could tell of the severely disabled children born between 1959 and 1962 and raised, often, in institutions, or the distraught mothers who, in three known cases, committed suicide.

You could tell of how journalists found a way around sub judice laws, or how Jack Ashley MP took the cause on as his own. Thalidomide: the Fifty Year Fight (BBC2) touched on all these, but was primarily the story of David Mason, the father who drove the fight for compensation from thalidomide's UK distributor, Distillers.

Mason proved to be an unusually resolute man, a quality which is all the more unusual because in the immediate wake of the crisis, so many were paralysed with horror. When deformed babies started being born even trained medical staff panicked. Some infants were "euthanised" by suffocation or left alone in a cold room. One interviewee also cited a few cases where nurses, unable to confront the mother, simply wrapped the baby tightly in swaddling, and left her to make the discovery at home.

It was also the panic of the parents, said Mason, which Distillers was exploiting with its first derisory offer of compensation. Fortunately, and thanks in large part to Mason, the battle didn't end there and it hasn't ended yet. The next goal is to convince, Grünenthal, the German inventors of the drug, to provide the financial support necessary for British thalidomide victims to live with dignity as they enter their old age. As campaigner Nick Dobrik said, it's the least they can do.