For the second time in history, the Canadian government will provide compensation to victims of the infamous drug Thalidomide.
Thalidomide was originally marketed in several countries as a morning sickness drug by Chemie Grünenthal in the late 1950s and early 1960s until its use was linked to thousands of deaths and birth defects. Approximately half of the surviving infants who were exposed to Thalidomide in the womb suffer from malformed limbs. The drug also caused a number of other health problems, including heart defects, blindness and deafness.
Canadian regulators withdrew Thalidomide's marketing authorization in 1962—several months after German and UK regulators had pulled the drug from the market.
History of Compensation for Survivors
In 1968, the makers of Thalidomide went to court in Germany for both criminal and civil suits. The civil suits ended with an out-of-court settlement, which required Grünenthal to pay 100 million Deutsche marks to a fund for the families affected by Thalidomide use. The court in the criminal case eventually discontinued the trial and found the company officials to be not guilty.
In both Germany and the UK, victims fought for almost a decade before receiving any compensation. Eventually, victims in most of the world reached some sort of settlement with the companies involved with the production and sale of Thalidomide.
Until recently, Canadian Thalidomide victims were not part of any large-scale settlement with the companies that sold the drug. Some families fought in court for compensation; however, all of these cases ended in individual settlements out of court. Survivors were eventually given some compensation in 1991 by the Ministry of National Health and Welfare (which later became Health Canada), which was quickly depleted.
Canada’s new Assistance Package
On Friday, 6 March 2015, Canada’s Health Minister Rona Ambrose announced a new assistance package for victims of Thalidomide. The funding comes after a motion to provide support to victims was unanimously approved by Parliament last December.
The new compensation measure will pay a tax-free lump sum of $125,000 (CAD) to Thalidomide victims in addition to establishing a $168 million (CAD) fund that victims can access for their medical expenses.
The terms of the compensation package were initially criticized by victims, who said the measures were inadequate. Mercédes Benegbi, a Thalidomide survivor and executive director of Thalidomide Victims Association of Canada (TVAC) said the lump sum is not enough to accommodate their medical needs and expressed concern that the $168 million fund will be difficult to access due to bureaucratic inefficiencies.
However, over the past few days TVAC has met with Health Canada to address their concerns. In a press release today, TVAC said the meetings were reassuring and provided clarity on how the assistance package would work. Following the meetings, Benegbi said “We are encouraged by the frank and open discussions we’ve had with the Health Canada,” but says there is still work to be done to ensure that survivors are appropriately cared for.
TVAC Press Release, CBC News