Final ignominy for Australian hero of thalidomide scandal sca

The final fall from grace of William McBride, who alerted the world to the dangers of the drug thalidomide, came yesterday when he failed to overturn an order striking him off Australia's medical register.

The High Court refused Dr McBride leave to appeal, closing the last chapter on one of the most spectacular downfalls in the medical world. Once an Australian hero and feted internationally, Dr McBride, 67, had been fighting for eight years to clear his name over charges that he faked experiments involving Debendox, another anti-morning sickness drug which he believed caused birth defects, as thalidomide had done 20 years earlier.

Dr McBride's letter to the Lancet in 1961 was the first public warning that thalidomide could cause defects in the babies of women who took it during pregnancy. The drug was withdrawn from sale, and Distillers, the company which marketed it, faced an avalanche of litigation in Britain and Australasia.

Dr McBride's fall began in 1987 when a programme made by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation accused him of secretly altering the results of experiments with scopolamine, a travel-sickness drug with similar actions to a component of Debendox.

The accusations rocked the medical world. Dr McBride had already appeared as a witness against Merrell Dow, the United States pharmaceuticals giant which marketed Debendox, in several US court cases brought by parents who blamed Debendox for deformities in their children. Merrell Dow withdrew Debendox from sale in 1983, but the company has since won 30 out of 32 cases in the US courts.

A medical tribunal inquiry in Australia, lasting more than three years, found the charges against Dr McBride proved in 1993 and ordered him stuck off the medical register. Dr McBride has alleged that he is a victim of a conspiracy by international drug companies.

Yesterday's failed appeal means that Dr McBride stands permanently deregistered and branded of unfit character to practise medicine. But not one of his former patients had ever lodged a complaint against him and no inquiry found him guilty of any misconduct as a practising doctor.

"I'm very disappointed," he said afterwards. "Drug offenders are allowed to apply for rehabilitation after three years, but I wasn't offered even that option."

Phillip Knightley, the journalist and author who helped to expose the thalidomide scandal 20 years ago, wrote last year in Dr McBride's book, Killing the Messenger: "There was no logic in the cutting down of William McBride. It was a late 20th century witch-hunt, conducted in a primitive manner, a mass urge to destroy the idol that Australians themselves had created."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

Ashdown Group: Head of IT - Hertfordshire - £90,000

£70000 - £90000 per annum + bonus + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: H...

Day In a Page

Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions
Major medical journal Lancet under attack for 'extremist hate propaganda' over its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Lancet accused of 'anti-Israel hate propaganda' over coverage of Gaza conflict

Threat to free speech as publishers of renowned medical journal are accused of inciting hatred and violence
General Election 2015: Tories and Lib Dems throw their star names west to grab votes

All noisy on the Lib Dems' western front

The party has deployed its big guns in Cornwall to save its seats there. Simon Usborne heads to the heart of the battle
How Etsy became a crafty little earner: The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?

How Etsy became a crafty little earner

The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?
Guy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle King Arthur - one of our most versatile heroes

King Arthur is inspiring Guy Ritchie

Raluca Radulescu explains why his many permutations - from folk hero to chick-lit hunk - never cease to fascinate
Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations for the man or woman on the street?

Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations?

The Apple Watch has apparently sold millions even before its launch tomorrow
Don't fear the artichoke: it's a good cook's staple, with more choice than you'd think

Don't fear the artichoke

Artichokes are scary - they've got spikes and hairy bits, and British cooks tend to give them a wide berth. But they're an essential and delicious part of Italian cuisine
11 best men's socks

11 best men's socks

Make a statement with your accessories, starting from the bottom up
Paul Scholes column: Eden Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo

Paul Scholes column

Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo
Frank Warren: Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal

Frank Warren's Ringside

Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal
London Marathon 2015: Kenya's brothers in arms Wilson Kipsang and Dennis Kimetto ready to take on world

Kenya's brothers in arms take on world

Last year Wilson Kipsang had his marathon record taken off him by training partner and friend Dennis Kimetto. They talk about facing off in the London Marathon
Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad but it's not because I refuse to fly

Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad

Green leader prefers to stay clear of her 'painful' family memories but is more open about 'utterly unreasonable' personal attacks
Syria conflict: Khorasan return with a fresh influx of fighters awaiting the order to start 'shooting the birds'

Khorasan is back in Syria

America said these al-Qaeda militants were bombed out of the country last year - but Kim Sengupta hears a different story
General Election 2015: Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North for Ukip?

On the campaign trail with Ukip

Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North?
Four rival Robin Hood movies get Hollywood go-head - and Friar Tuck will become a superhero

Expect a rush on men's tights

Studios line up four Robin Hoods productions