Thalidomide survivor says MPs' support was 'a pure moment of joy'
A leading advocate for Canadian thalidomide victims says she was overcome with joy after MPs unanimously approved a motion to support thalidomide survivors on Monday. Now, the survivors are waiting for the government to come up with a "concrete" proposal of funding.
On Monday, the decades-long call to help was answered after MPs unanimously voted for a motion to support victims of thalidomide.
Mercedes Benegbi, executive director of the Thalidomide Victims Association of Canada and a thalidomide survivor, said being in Ottawa when the motion passed was an overwhelming experience.
"It was a pure moment of joy and of hope – hope that finally we will find a Canada-made solution that will properly address this crisis," she told CTV's Canada AM. "We've gone from being a forgotten group for so many years; now we've become a priority."
On Monday, following the vote, Federal Health Minister Ambrose said in a statement that the government will work to ensure that thalidomide survivors will be "properly supported."
Benegbi said that while Ambrose gave no specific dollar amount, she believes that the government and thalidomide survivors have opened a new "channel of communication."
"I really feel that (Ambrose) was an extremely good listener, and she understood the crisis," Benegbi said.
When asked when she expects a government response, Benegbi said she expects the government to come back with a proposal no later than Jan. 26. "I'm convinced that they will come back to us with something very concrete," she said.
Thalidomide was a government-approved anti-nausea drug that was prescribed to expecting mothers during the 1960s. Its use was stopped after it became clear that the drug caused devastating and sometimes fatal birth defects including deafness, blindness, or phocomelia – a condition in which babies are born with missing or malformed limbs.
Benegbi herself was born without arms and has stunted growth. In a recent interview with Canada AM, she rated her daily pain at a "9" on a scale of one to 10, and says she can't walk more than five minutes without suffering.
Benegbi's group sent a proposal to Ambrose in September, seeking to develop a "survivor fund" to help cover the medical and care costs for thalidomide survivors in Canada.
In 1991, Canadian thalidomide survivors were given a one-time payout of $8.5 million, which amounted to between $52,000 and $82,000 per individual. But Benegbi says that amount was not nearly enough to cover their healthcare costs.
In addition to financial support, Benegbi said her group would also like to see the government apologize to thalidomide survivors.
"It's important for us to really feel that they recognize that the mistake was done and there are survivors in Canada, and that they will do all that they can to repair this crisis properly," she said. "It will heal the pain in our hearts that we have; not only money but regrets."