Nuremberg©2015 Am Ang Zhang
The Nazis and Thalidomide: The Worst Drug Scandal of All Time
Adding to the dark shadow over the company, it is increasingly clear that, in the immediate postwar years, a rogues’ gallery of wanted and convicted Nazis, mass murderers who had practiced their science in notorious death camps, ended up working at Grünenthal, some of them directly involved in the development of thalidomide.
What they had to offer was knowledge and skills developed in experiments that no civilized society would ever condone. It was in this company of men, indifferent to suffering and believers in a wretched philosophy that life is cheap, that thalidomide was developed and produced.
Perhaps the best known of Grünenthal’s murderous employees was Otto Ambros. He had been one of the four inventors of the nerve gas sarin. Clearly a brilliant chemist, described as charismatic, even charming, he was Hitler’s adviser on chemical warfare and had direct access to the führer—and committed crimes on a grand scale. As a senior figure in IG Farben, the giant cartel of chemical and pharmaceutical companies involved in numerous war crimes, he set up a forced labor camp at Dyhernfurth to produce nerve gases before creating the monolithic Auschwitz-Monowitz chemical factory to make synthetic rubber and oil.
Dr. Kelsey is honored by President John F. Kennedy in 1962. (Courtesy of FDA)
Freedom of Speech: Truth & Thalidomide!
Case 5 – The Truth about Thalidomide Given the lack of a constitution enshrining free speech, we do need some protection against frivolous libel actions and injunctions which try to prevent the truth from being revealed. Otherwise the truth about thalidomide would never have been told.
“Thirty-eight years ago,” he wrote, “I sat through days of hearings by the Law Lords deliberating on whether I and the paper I edited were guilty of contempt in 1972-3 in campaigning for justice for the thalidomide families. All five Law Lords voted to ban publication of our report. Only a 13-11 victory in the European Court of Human Rights removed the gag order” – and thus, I add, enabled The Sunday Times to expose one of the great scandals of that time, and subsequently win compensation for the families with young children born damaged or deformed, often without legs or arms, because their mothers had taken the drug, thalidomide, which was marketed as a mild sedative that would relieve morning sickness in pregnancy. Telegraph
Luckily, the European Court eventually ruled for The Sunday Times:
“The newspaper then decided to fight the injunction on its investigation into the origins and testing of the drug. The case went right through the British legal system and up to the European Court of Human Rights, which decided that the injunction violated the right of ‘freedom of expression’. The full story of thalidomide could eventually be told in 1976, revealing that both Grünenthal (the maker) and Distillers had not met the basic testing requirements of the time.”
I mentioned thalidomide also because in 2002 Gordon Brown, the then chancellor, attempted to tax the benefits payable through the Thalidomide Trust.