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German Producer of Thalidomide Apologizes

These capsules of thalidomide, seen at the Celgene Corp. in Warren, N.J., April 7, 1998, carry a symbol of a pregnant woman to warn women who are pregnant or may be soon against use of the drug that had caused thousands of infant deformities.
A German pharmaceutical company has issued its first apology for the thalidomide tragedy - 50 years after the morning sickness drug given to pregnant women in the 1950s and the early 1960s caused thousands of babies to be born with severe birth defects.

Grunenthal chief executive Harald Stock apologized Friday, saying "we have been silent and we are very sorry for that."

The pharmaceutical chief spoke in Stolberg, Germany, at the unveiling of a bronze memorial statue symbolizing a child born without limbs because of thalidomide.

Stock said the drug was taken by many women "who had no reason to imagine that it could seriously harm their unborn children."

He said "we ask that you regard our long silence as a sign of the silent shock that your fate has caused us."

Stock said Grunenthal has begun to develop projects with victims of the drug to improve their living conditions. Some victim groups have rejected those projects as too little, too late.

The World Health Organization says more than 10,000 cases of birth defects were reported in more than 46 countries, following exposure to thalidomide. WHO says children were born with missing or abnormal legs, arms, feet and hands. There were also spinal cord defects, cleft lips or palates, and absent or abnormal external ears. Other defects included heart, kidney and genital abnormalities and abnormal formation of the digestive system.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and AFP.