Thalidomide scandal: Twenty cases identified in past five years
Jeremy Laurance is a writer on health issues. He is former health editor of The Independent and the i and has covered the specialism for more than 20 years. He thinks the harm medicine does is under-appreciated, the harm it prevents over-rated, and that cycling works better than most drugs. He was named Specialist Journalist of the Year in the 2011 British Press Awards.
Friday 21 December 2012
Fifty years after the world was shocked by the thalidomide scandal, survivors are still being identified in Britain.
In the last five years, the Thalidomide Trust accepted 20 out of 500 applications for support from people with varying degrees of disfigurement, most of which turned out not to be linked with the drug.
Liz Lash, 52, who has shortened legs and arms and is confined to a wheelchair, was accepted in 2009. Asked why it had taken so long, she said: “My father died soon after I was born. My mother, who was a teacher, was determined I should be educated in the mainstream system. She wanted to keep me away from the disability world.”
For decades Ms Lash, who managed a voluntary organisation in East Sussex, got on with her life. Then, through links with a disability charity, she began to wonder if she might be a thalidomide survivor.
“I applied to the Thalidomide Trust and was seen by their medical assessor who said he did not think there was much doubt. My mother was pleased about my getting the compensation. But she was by then too frail to discuss why it had taken so long.”
Martin Johnson, director of the Trust, said some families had been overwhelmed by the knowledge that they had taken a drug that had caused their child’s deformities.
Denial particularly affected medical families, where the father was a doctor who had advised his wife to take the drug. “They felt guilty. They might have worried their own child could sue them,” Mr Johnson said.
In other cases, people with minor defects who had put up with them when they were younger had begun to find themselves increasingly disabled as they got older.
Five people with thalidomide died in 2012 and two the previous year. But the overall number affected had remained roughly stable at 470 because of the new applicants accepted, Mr Johnson said.
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