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Australia: After decades of pain, ‘thalidomiders’ welcome national apology but still mourn loved ones

“Gut-wrenching,” says Lisa McManus. She is looking for words to describe how she and other thalidomide survivors feel ahead of a historic apology by Anthony Albanese for government failings in the tragedy.

She is grateful for recognition of the medical disaster and relieved that a decade of advocacy has come to fruition. Around 80 of the 146 recognised survivors will witness the apology in Canberra on Wednesday in what McManus hopes will be “a step in the healing process”.

But she is also frustrated that too many others have not lived to see the day.

Thalidomide caused birth defects including “shortened or absent limbs, blindness, deafness or malformed internal organs”, according to the Department of Health.

The drug was not tested on pregnant women before approval, and the birth defect crisis led to greater medical oversight worldwide, including the creation of Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration. Survivors and independent reports have criticised the government of the day for not acting sooner to remove thalidomide from shelves when problems became apparent.

McManus leads Thalidomide Group Australia, having lobbied governments for a decade for an apology and better support. She’s “extremely grateful” for the apology, and says many survivors are anxious, excited and nervous – but that the apology itself can’t be the end.

“I’m relieved it’s happening, I just can’t say ‘thank you’,” McManus says. “I’m very happy to think it’s here, but it won’t fix things, and I don’t want the government thinking they will deliver this and it’ll all be fine.”

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Source: The Guardian, 28 November 2023


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