Thalidomide and Australia
1953: Thalidomide was created in Germany by the Grünenthal Group.
Primarily prescribed as a sedative thalidomide also claimed to cure anxiety, insomnia, gastritis, and
Later, it was used against nausea and to alleviate morning sickness in pregnant women.
1956: The first Thalidomide-affected baby was born in West Germany to a Grünenthal employee.
1958/April: Thalidomide was first licenced for use in the United Kingdom under the brand name Distaval.
June 1960: Thalidomide was marketed in Australia.
1961/March: Distaval is declared a potent drug in Victoria, Australia. This restricted its sales to Chemists.
1961/April: Australian Dr. William McBride, notified Chemie Grünenthal’s Australian distributor Distillers about his
suspicions of the link between Distaval (Thalidomide) and malformations.
Distillers claim they never received the written report.
Yet sales promotion of the drug was stepped up and a quarter of a million leaflets distributed saying
Thalidomide is "Harmless even over a long period of use" and "completely harmless even for infants".
1961/May 4: Dr. William McBride reported further malformations due to Thalidomide and succeeded in convincing
his superiors at Crown Street Women's Hospital, Sydney, that the drug must be withdrawn from use in
In October and November Dr. McBride reported further malformed babies.
1961/Oct: Approved for sale over the counter without a prescription in Victoria, Australia.
1961/Nov: Thalidomide was withdrawn from the British and the Australian markets by the manufacturer,
1961/Dec 2: Australian distributor Distillers withdrew from sale, Distaval, Asmaval, Tensivale, Valgis, and Valgraine.
All (5) of these medications contained Thalidomide.
Whilst Distaval was most commonly associated with morning sickness and baby abnormalities, the other
medications were prescribed for symptoms of headache, toothache, hay fever, bronchitis, migraine,
fibrositis, asthma, neuralgia, arthritis.
The reality was, that any of these tablets (or syrup) could be given to an unsuspecting woman, her child
be mutilated or murdered, and the connection between Thalidomide and Thalidomide babes, not be
Whilst Thalidomide (under the collection of trade names listed above) was withdrawn by Distillers, the
Australian Government did nothing to alert the public and/or search and destroy remaining stock.
1961/Dec 16: Dr McBride's observations were published in the Lancet highlighting the connections between
Thalidomide and birth defects.
His observations were also published in the Australian Medical Journal on December 23.
1962/Jan 6 and Feb 3: Prof. Widijung Lenz who had warned against Thalidomide in Germany published evidence of
deformities in the Lancet.
Chemie Grünenthal continued making and distributing Thalidomide, stepping up its
advertising and intensive marketing despite criticism of doctors
1962/March 4: Thalidomide was removed from the shelves in Germany because of public opinion and against the
wishes of Chemie Grünenthal.
News of the dangers of Thalidomide was played down by the media.
In many cases, malformed births occurred after the drug was withdrawn as many households were
in possession of the drug.
Pregnant mothers took it never realizing the risks involved.
1962/April: Classified as a drug to be sold only on doctors’ prescriptions in Victoria, Australia.
1962/July: FDA inspector Frances Kelsey, prevented the drug’s approval within the United States despite pressure
from the pharmaceutical company and FDA supervisors.
Kelsey felt the application for thalidomide contained incomplete and insufficient data on its safety and
Kelsey was also concerned that there were not yet any results available from U.S. clinical trials of the
1962/Aug 1: President John F. Kennedy immediately responded to the recommendations of Frances Kelsey, by;
* Alerting the people of America to the dangers of Thalidomide.
He personally made appearances on television warning of the dangers.
* Had warnings flashed on the television screens and over the radio at regular intervals
throughout the day and night for weeks.
* Called for a nationwide search of every home and medicine cabinet in the country.
* Ordered for the destruction of every Thalidomide tablet found.
* Allocated a team of 200 men to track down every doctor who may have obtained supplies
from outside sources, giving orders that any Thalidomide found to be destroyed on sight.
1962/July 27: New Zealand Department of Health issued a directive to seize Thalidomide from Chemists and hospital
shelves, under the Section 12 of the Food and Drug Act.
1962/Aug: New Zealand Government prohibited the importation, manufacture, sale, and use of Thalidomide in
1962/Aug 9: Australian government FINALLY bans the sale of Thalidomide.
1962/Aug 9: Minister for Health (Senator Wade) said no action was necessary on the drug Thalidomide in Australia,
because “the manufacturer had withdrawn it from the market.” ( The Age, August 9, 1962)
* Because of this “no action”, it was still possible to walk into a Chemist shop and purchase 100
tablets 7.5 months after “the manufacturer had withdrawn it from the market”.
* Because of this “no action” it was also possible for the manufacturer to make supplies available
to hospitals at any time.
1962: The following citations from the Federal Parliament Hansard suggest a delay occurring between when the
Australian Health Department became aware of the effects of Thalidomide, and the banning of the drug.
August 22: “Why was not the ban on Distaval imposed then, instead of four months afterwards, when a
question was asked in this House?”
Senator Turnbull (Tas), 22 August 1962;
August 30: “The reason why I raise this matter, Mr. Deputy President, is that I have a disquieting feeling that
our Department of Health is not sufficiently aware of what is happening.”
Senator Turnbull (Tas),30 August, 1962;
October 17: “I think that not only every honorable member but everybody in the country was shocked by
the tragedy of babies born deformed as a result of the use by their mothers during pregnancy
of the drug thalidomide. Australia's Minister for Health does not seem to have been shocked
sufficiently to do much about it”,
Mr. Webb (Stirling), 17 October, 1962.
Dec 13, 1962: Letter from J.F. Cairns (Member of House of Representatives) writes to Senator Wade (Federal Health
Minister) to inquire as to the possibility of Thalidomide being contained in Tensival, Valgis, and
These medications were on sale for common complaints.
Dec 17, 1962: Federal Health Minister Wade replies to J.F Cairns responding, “he would have to investigate
Jan 3, 1963: As written by the Director General to Minister Wade;
“On the 10th December, The Melbourne Herald published your warning to householders to destroy
supplies of Thalidomide preparations in their possession, but so far as can be ascertained, your
statement did not appear in Interstate newspapers.
Jan 9, 1963: Minister Wade responds:
“I am of the opinion that a further press statement on Thalidomide would serve no useful
purpose at present time”
May 14, 1963: Senator McClelland, addresses the Australian Federal Parliament;
“The fact is, as I have said, that very little, if anything at all, is being done to assist these 23
malformed Australians. Perhaps it is that society, consciously or unconsciously, wants to
forget about them. Perhaps it is that a collective family group of 23 cannot be regarded as
a pressure group. In any event, very little, if anything at all, is being done in Australia to
alleviate the problems of the parents of these children or to assist the afflicted children
The Senate Appropriation Bill (No.2) 1962-63. May 14,1963.
(Note: only 23 babies were identified as Thalidomide at this stage)
Mid to late 1960’s: The Australian Government made available the facilities of Veterans Affairs to provide the
fitting of artificial limbs for those children missing either upper or lower limbs.
1968: Chemie Grünenthal is brought to trial in Germany charged with intent to commit bodily harm and
1970: The trial against Grünenthal is brought to a premature end by the German government stating that the
trial “was not in the public interest”.
1974: The Australian government made a one-off payment of $150,000 to off-set the taxes earned by the
2010: United Kingdom Health Minister (Mike O’Brien) makes a formal apology to their Thalidomide Victims,
expressing “sincere regret and deep sympathy” on behalf of the government.
2012: The inventor of Thalidomide (the Grünenthal Group) releases a statement saying it regrets the
consequences of the drug.
“We ask that you regard our long silence as a sign of the silent shock that your fate has caused us!”
Company Chief Executive, Harold Stock
Currently: Following any settlements in 1974 (Distillers), 2010 (Diageo), and 2014 (Diageo), the Australian Federal
Government passed legislation ensuring that the lump sum and ex-gratia payments were not
considered income and therefore not liable for payment of income tax.
Currently: The Grünenthal Group have never recognised and/or compensated its Australian victims.
In 2015, The Grünenthal Group boasts a revenue of 1.2 billion euro.
The Grünenthal Group are present in 32 countries with products sold worldwide in 155 countries.
Currently: Chemie Grünenthal is STILL operating here in Australia unencumbered by sanctions or penalties.
Currently: The Australian Government is still ignoring the Thalidomide survivors they helped create.