Speech to mark the unveiling of thalidomide memorial
Translation of the speech in German by Harald F. Stock, PhD., Chief Executive Officer of the Grünenthal Group, to mark the unveiling of the thalidomide memorial in Stolberg/Rhineland, Germany, on August 31, 2012
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Dear Mr. Mayor, ladies and gentlemen – and particularly dear Mr. Igel!
The fact that a Grünenthal representative is given the opportunity to speak on this special day and special occasion will surely give rise to controversy, but I would like to thank you for granting me the opportunity to speak today. Thalidomide is and will always be part of our company’s history. We have a responsibility and we face it openly.
Today is marked by bravery and commitment.
You, Mr. Igel, are brave. And you are committed. You just told us how much you dreamed of this day and how hard you have worked for this day and the fact that you – people affected by thalidomide – have a symbol and a place to ensure that our society does not forget. Personally, I completely understand this wish.
Nevertheless, the many statements made by the media and those both involved and uninvolved have revealed that this day has triggered both a great deal of support and criticism. I think you will agree that it comes with the special nature of this issue that positive intentions are criticized for other motives.
We have chosen to support your cause, Mr. Igel, which is also the cause of many affected people. The memorial symbolizes an important milestone of a larger development. It is a development towards an ongoing dialogue, ongoing moving towards one another, incipient efforts to understand and, as a result, being able to act together. This development began in 2007 when official and regular talks started taking place between representatives of our company and representatives of those affected by thalidomide. Over the past few years, the intensified dialogue led to our endowment of 50 million Euros in 2009 and start various projects in Germany and abroad, such as the Belgian patient card and the direct support of individual hardship cases—the latter starting about a year ago, set up to support the needs of individuals that are not covered by the foundation or by social services.
In numerous talks with those affected and with the Ministry of Health, Equalities, Care and Ageing of North Rhine-Westphalia—especially in the last few months—we have learned how much the public wished us to express our deep regrets to those affected by thalidomide, especially to the mothers.
We are aware of our responsibility and will continue to respond with demand-oriented projects and initiatives.
We do not take for granted the fact that I can stand here today and say a few words.
Your courage, dear Mr. Igel, in accepting our support on the initiative of Mayor Gatzweiler—even in the face of the resistance on the part of the representatives of those affected—and your willingness to listen to us today is a testament to your greatness, for Grünenthal is the company that developed and marketed thalidomide.
On behalf of Grünenthal, its shareholders and employees, I would like to take the opportunity at this moment of remembrance today to express our sincere regrets about the consequences that thalidomide had and our deep sympathy for all those affected, their mothers and their families. We see both the physical hardship and the emotional stress that the affected, their families and particularly their mothers, had to suffer because of thalidomide and still have to endure day by day.
The thalidomide tragedy took place 50 years ago in a world completely different from today. The international scientific community, the pharmaceutical industry, governments, legislators and administrations have had to learn a lot from it. Throughout the world, the tragedy influenced the development of new authorization procedures and legal frameworks, which seek to minimize the risks of new medicines for patients as much as possible.
Grünenthal acted in accordance with the state of scientific knowledge and all industry standards for testing new drugs that were relevant and acknowledged in the 1950s and 1960s. We regret that the teratogenic potential of thalidomide could not be detected by the tests that we and others carried out before it was marketed.
Hence the drug was taken by many women who had no reason to imagine that it could seriously harm their unborn children. Therefore we want to address this message particularly to all the affected and their mothers. We realize that the mothers are carrying a heavy burden.
We also apologize for the fact that we have not found the way to you from person to person for almost 50 years. Instead, we have been silent and we are very sorry for that.
We ask that you regard our long silence as a sign of the silent shock that your fate has caused us. We have learned how important it is that we engage in an open dialogue with those affected and to talk and to listen to them. We have begun to mutually develop and implement projects with them, to improve their living situation and assist in hardship situations easily and efficiently. We will continue to pursue this path in the future.
We wish that the thalidomide tragedy had never happened. It is an important part of our thinking and acting – today as in the future.
- Translation of the German speech by Harald F. Stock, PhD. (pdf, 25.2 KB)