Globe public editor: How thalidomide stories spurred federal action

Sylvia SteadBy Sylvia Stead, public editor for the Globe and Mail

Last weekend, The Globe and Mail launched a heart-breaking special series on Canada’s 95 known survivors of thalidomide.

In the early sixties, their mothers took the supposed “miracle drug,” which doctors began to prescribe for morning sickness after it received federal approval.

Today, they are in their fifties and live, in many cases, with constant suffering, their limbs gnarled and stunted.

As writer Ingrid Peritz reported, the miracle drug was a “hidden time bomb that worked its devastation in the womb. Children entered the world with flipper-like hands coming out of their shoulders. Others were born deaf, without legs or with damage to their spines and hearts. Many more died, or were rejected by their parents.” They were, as the headline on her story put it: “Forgotten, but not gone.”

In September, the victims, who refer to themselves as “thalidomiders,” submitted a report to the federal government describing their financial and physical hardships. They asked for ongoing aid, saying Ottawa’s one-time payout two decades ago is long gone.

But nothing happened. After waiting two months, the victims still had no indication that Health Minister Rona Ambrose had even seen their proposal.

Since last Saturday, however, all that has changed. The Globe followed its weekend package (on the front page, thalidomiders’ struggle was summarized as “The fight of their lives”) with an in-depth story on Monday about Dr. Frances Kelsey.

Now 100, she was the Canadian-born medical officer at the Food and Drug Administration who refused to approve thalidomide for use in the United States. Although under great pressure, she, in her words “stuck to her guns” and thus spared thousands.

Also on Monday there was a story about plans by the federal opposition parties to make a united call for fair compensation.

Then, on Tuesday, a Folio feature by renowned British-born journalist and author Sir Harold Evans noted some of the 52 countries that approved the drug have left victims basically unsupported. Of Canada, he said, those who remain have “miserable lives because their disabilities have aged their years” and because they’ve received so little help.

He described as “excruciating” a video of a Canadian woman “who can take a bath only when there is someone around who can try to get her into a sling so she can be winched in and out of the water.”

To continue reading this column, please go where this was originally published.

You may also like...