Thalidomide: Australia gives apology to survivors and families

At heart of the national apology must be an acceptance of Australia’s moral responsibility, prime minister tells parliament

Australia’s prime minister has given a national apology to survivors of the Thalidomide scandal and their families in that country.

Thalidomide was developed in Germany in the 1950s and was first employed as a sedative or tranquiliser, but it became widely promoted worldwide as a morning-sickness drug.

As its use grew, there were reports of birth defects – usually in the form of significantly shortened limbs.

Speaking in parliament in Canberra on Wednesday, Anthony Albanese said: “Today, at long last, Australia will say sorry. I want to acknowledge and welcome all the Thalidomide survivors and their families here with us in the parliament.


“I extend that same respect to all those watching from afar here with us in spirit, you have been survivors from the day you were born.

“More than that, you have been advocates, organisers, champions and warriors. Time and time again, you have summoned remarkable resolve. You have shown an extraordinary strength of character. Yet for so long, parliaments and governments have not proved equal to this or worthy of it.”

Mr Albanese said Australia has ‘moral responsibility” for the Thalidomide tragedy. “Too often, we have let you down. Today – your presence lifts all of us up,” he said.

“Without question, the heroes of those proceedings are the survivors and their families who shared their stories with such searing honesty. The people who put on the parliamentary record a hard truth too long denied.

“Their courage demands that at the heart of this nation apology must be an acceptance of Australia’s moral responsibility. So today, as we express our sorrow and regret, we also acknowledge the inescapable historical facts. The fact that even after the grave dangers of this drug were known, importing Thalidomide was not prohibited,” the prime minister said.

“Selling it was not banned. Products and samples in surgeries and shops were not comprehensively recalled or entirely destroyed. Saying ‘sorry’ does not excuse this or erase it. There are no words that can undo what has been suffered. There’s no sum of money that can square the ledger.

“But our Australian commitment to a fair go for all demands that we try.”

During his speech, the leader of the opposition, Peter Dutton, made reference to an Australian obstetrician who in early 1961 was among the first doctors to draw a link between Thalidomide and birth defects.

The obstetrician published a letter in the medical journal the Lancet, warning of the “multiple severe abnormalities” in babies delivered from women who had taken the drug Thalidomide during pregnancy.

The was a minute’s silence after Mr Albanese’s national apology to victims and survivors.

Mr Albanese and Mr Dutton met Thalidomide survivors and their families in Parliament House in Canberra. About 80 survivors attended the event, with family and friends swelling numbers into the hundreds. – Guardian