Canada's Eternal Shame / by Geoff Adams-Spink

FAO Gordon Campbell - Canadian High Commissioner to the UK

Mr Campbell,

I write concerning the continuing neglect by your government of a small but extremely important group of people.

The thalidomide drug was distributed in Canada (but not in the US thanks to the diligence of one of your compatriots, Frances Kelsey) until March 1962 - four months after it was withdrawn from sale in the UK and Germany.  

You will no doubt be aware that thalidomide survivors in the UK - of whom I am one - enjoy substantial financial support both from the successor company to Distillers Biochemicals Ltd (Diageo plc) as well as the UK government which has just renewed a support package for the next ten years.  

Equally, those damaged by thalidomide that was supplied by the original developer, Grünenthal, now enjoy considerable financial support in order to meet their increasing needs, from the Conterganstiftung.  

Contrast this with the almost total neglect of the 97 thalidomide survivors in Canada.  This is shameful and needs to be remedied without further delay.  If you need proof of the results of this abandonment of your government’s responsibilities, I would suggest that you spend ten minutes of your precious time to look at a film produced by TVAC, the organisation that represents thalidomide survivors in Canada: 

You will see that people are struggling with daily life and are lacking the essentials that they need in order to live with dignity and independence.  Several of the contributors detail cases of systematic sexual abuse.  

If your government wants to delay the process of providing much needed support by trying to establish to what extent there is a shortfall, I am happy to inform you that studies commissioned by the UK Thalidomide Trust and another published by the University of Heidelberg’s Institute of Gerontology will already supply you with an ample evidence base.  

Please pass on the concerns of the worldwide thalidomide community - many of whose organisations are members of the umbrella body that I chair - to representatives of your government who are in a position to turn this sorry situation into something more positive and which more closely matches the aspirations of Canada to be a developed and civilised nation.  

I look forward to your prompt response.  

Geoff Adams-Spink

UK thalidomide survivor and Chairman of the European Dysmelia Reference Information Centre (EDRIC)