Saturday 17 August 2019

Legless in Gaza

My correspondent / source G ordered me to watch No Limits a documentary by John Zaritsky about Thalidomiders. I've had a peek at Thalidomide before, largely to give tribs to Frances Kelsey who, as the newest hire at the FDA, stalled drug company Richardson-Merrell from marketing the devil's spit-balls in the USA. The few [N = 17] US cases of Thalidomide-induced damage seem to have come from freebies given out in handfuls by Merrell as pre-sale promotion for the new wonder-drug. Merrell was interested in the distribution rights because Thalidomide had been so profitable for Grünenthal, the German parent company that held all the intellectual property.

Although I knew the story, there were numerous details which had escaped my notice (or slipped my memory since, as likely).

The Nazi connexion. Otto Ambros was appointed Chairman of the Grünenthal Board. We've met him before as one of the developers of the nerve gas Sarin, when he worked for IG "slave-labour" Farben in WWII. Dr. Heinrich Mückter was Grünenthal's Head of Research and claimed a tidy royalty for each packet of Thalidomide sold. During the war Herr Dr. Mückter had worked im Osten, doing experiments, without informed consent, to develop a typhus vaccine on Polish civilians and the inhabitants of the Krakow ghetto.

The off-switch statistics. There was a very high rate of perinatal mortality among victims of Thalidomide-induced dysmelia. It is true that there was were a number of still-births associated with the drug; and presumably a, hard to guesstimate, number of spontaneous abortions and miscarriages. But it is alleged that many full-term babies, without the full complement of limbs, were left in the delivery room by their mothers and taken care of by doctors and nurses who couldn't imagine that a limbless child could live longer than a few days or weeks, let alone a full and active life as an emergency physician; a motivational speaker; or a film director.

The film No Limits is about what it says on the tin No Limits and so has a black [those Nazis, callous doctors and unimaginative midwives, corrupt officials, company lawyers] and  white  [Kelsey, survivors-who-have-done-well, Widikund Lenz, William McBride] view of the people involved. Those who have been bullied; who haven't found love; who have a crap self image; whose general health is getting worse with age; whose life has not been a bowl of cherries; they have no parts - not even walk-on parts - in the film. Nevertheless, hats off to the following people, who survived the drug induced insult to normal development and went on to live their best life: with a little help from parents, foster parents, teachers, spouses, their own kids . . . and indomitable spirit, of course:
Jan Schulte-Hillen
Moni Eisenberg
Louise Mason
Lynette Rowe
Niko von Glasow
Paul Murphy
Eileen Cronin
Alvin Law
But don't accept my take on it, watch the film yourself, it's only 80 minutes long.
. . . Promise was that I
Should Israel from Philistian yoke deliver!
Ask for this great Deliverer now, and find him
Eyeless in Gaza, at the mill with slaves,
Himself in bonds under Philistian yoke.
Samson Agonistes, John Milton

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