'Forgotten victims' of thalidomide fight for formal recognition – and compensation
Published Tuesday, October 25, 2016 10:00PM EDT
A group of adults born with life-altering birth defects took to Parliament Hill on Tuesday, calling for the government to finally recognize them as victims of thalidomide, a disastrous prenatal drug banned more than 50 years ago.
The group calls themselves the “forgotten victims” of thalidomide, a German-made medication prescribed to pregnant women for morning sickness and approved in Canada from 1959 to 1962. The drug was never properly tested and caused babies to be born with disfigured and missing limbs, deafness, blindness and other disabilities. The drug is considered one of the biggest medical mistakes in history.
In 2015, the Conservative government offered one-time, tax-free compensation packages of $125,000 for 92 thalidomide victims, along with yearly payments ranging from $25,000 to $100,000 depending on the case. More victims were later accepted into the payment program.
But the “forgotten victims” say they’ve been rejected from receiving compensation because they don’t have sufficient paperwork to prove that the drug caused their medical problems.
“All the documentation shows it. And our hands show it, our bodies show it,” Joanne Jenkins, who was born without some fingers, told CTV News.
For Jenkins, having her condition formally recognized would be the end of a lifelong struggle. When she was a baby, she was put into foster care and later adopted – and her paperwork was lost along the way.
“The day that I’m accepted, I’m going to put my hands up so high and so proud,” she said.
Linda Wolf came to Parliament with the group seeking justice for her daughter, Erica. Wolf was 17 years old when she became pregnant, and she says her doctor gave her a sample of thalidomide -- just four pills -- that she took.
When Erica was born, her left arm ended at her elbow.
Wolf no longer has her prescription or any medical records to prove that she took the drug, but she intends to keep fighting for her daughter.
“My main goal is to make sure that she’s accepted before I leave this world so that I know she’s taken care of,” she said, holding back tears.
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Health Minister Jane Philpott said the federal government has no plans to overturn the vetting process.
“At this point there’s no plan to change the process but obviously we’re concerned about victims and we want to make sure that they’re all treated fairly,” Philpott said.
The previous government announced in March 2015 a $180-million pledge to support people whose mothers took the drugs in the 1950s and 1960s. The proposal to support thalidomide victims was first put forward by the NDP and passed unanimously in the House of Commons.
With a report from CTV’s Genevieve Beauchemin and the Canadian Press