THE THALIDOMIDE TRAGEDY:
Another Example of Animal Research Misleading Science
Thalidomide, the nightmare drug responsible for over 10,000
human birth deformities, has again reared its ugly head with the
appearance of its dreadful effects being passed on to the
children of victims. This latest threat of the possibility
further litigation against the makers of thalidomide has once
again rallied industry-beholden animal researchers to the drug's
defence with laboratory data "disproving" the clinical findings.
As reported in the British Sunday Mirror, the babies of six
young men who were born deformed because of thalidomide have
also been born with malformed limbs. Two of the babies have
almost identical deformities to their fathers. Obstetrician Dr
William McBride, whom first warned against thalidomide in 1961,
has called on doctors to study children of victims and report
back to determine the scale of the tragedy. (1) He says there
are second-generation victims in Germany, Japan and Bolivia as
well as Britain. (2)
Despite the clinical evidence, to the contrary British health
authorities such as the Medical Research Council maintain that
the vast bulk of evidence from laboratory and animal tests is
against thalidomide having any genetic effects. (2) There is no
doubt that results from animal experiments will play a major
part in the drug's defence, as it has done from when
thalidomide's horrible effects first started appearing back in
the early 1960's. In fact, thalidomide apologists still adhere
to the defence that the thalidomide tragedy could not have been
predicted, mainly because the drug had not been tested
specifically for birth defects before being marketed, as at the
time it was not required by law. This convinced most, including
health activists campaigning for thalidomide's victims.
Thalidomide campaigners argue that the thalidomide tragedy is
not an example of an animal-tested drug that proved disastrous
for humans, but of the dishonesty and sharp practices of the
pharmaceutical industry. This view is based upon the fact that
the animal tests carried out by the inventor of the drug, the
West German pharmaceutical company Chemie Grünenthal, were very
superficial and incomplete, and their clinical trials were
hastily done and questionable. (3) Also, prior to the
introduction of thalidomide Grünenthal did not carry out animal
tests specifically to demonstrate teratogenic (malformation
causing) effects. (4) There is also no evidence that any of the
drug licensees did either. However, it soon will become evident
that the human birth deformities caused by thalidomide was the
result of misleading results from animal experimentation as well
as the dishonesty and ruthless behaviour of drug companies.
In 1957, soon after launching Contergan (thalidomide) in West
Germany, came reports of peripheral neuritis that revealed
thalidomide's toxic effects on the nervous system of the user.
(5) This is a serious illness that may occur anywhere in the
body. For example, it may begin with a prickly feeling in the
toes, followed by a sensation of numbness and cold. The numbness
spreads often above the ankles, and eventually is followed by
severe muscular cramps, weakness of limbs, and a lack of
co-ordination. Some of these symptoms improve or disappear when
the cause is removed, but much of the damage is irreversible.
Peripheral neuritis does not itself point to reproductive
damage, but many scientists would take such an assault on the
nervous system as grounds for general suspicion. (7) One such
scientist, McCredie reported that the limbs of children with
thalidomide malformations show changes analogous to those that
can occur in the adult as a consequence of pathological
alterations to peripheral nerves. (8) Such a suspicion was
suggestive enough to cause Dr Frances Kelsey, the Medical
Officer of the Food and Drug Administration, to reject the drug
firm's application to market Kevadon (thalidomide) in the United
States, because among other reasons, she wasn't satisfied that
the drug would be safe to take during pregnancy. Her handwritten
note on the original memorandum reads: "This was based on
peripheral neuritis symptoms in adults." (9)
The original animal tests by Chemie Grünenthal did not show
indications of this unexpected and serious side-effect. (10)
Furthermore, in several European countries, including England
and Sweden, the licensees of thalidomide carried out their own
animal tests, independently from the German firm, and came to
the same results as Chemie Grünenthal. (11) If the tests had
predicted peripheral neuritis and if the firms acted upon the
results in a responsible manner, the drug would not have been
released in the first place and a major disaster would have been
Unfortunately this wasn't the case: "an estimated 10,000
children-but probably many more-born throughout the world as
phocomelics, deformed, some with fin-like hands grown directly
on the shoulders; with stunted or missing limbs; deformed eyes
and ears; ingrown genitals; absence of a lung; a great many of
them still-born or dying shortly after birth; parents under
shock, mothers gone insane, some driven to infanticide." (12)
(Hans Ruesch, medical historian.)
Moreover, to illustrate just how criminally neglectful the firms
behaved, consider the fact that despite thousands of cases of
peripheral neuritis and that a growing number of cases of
deformities were being reported the drug firms resisted moves to
withdrawal their products. Besides, their resumed animal tests
could not duplicate the deformities, so they saw no reason to
remove the drug. Only until the evidence was overwhelming did
Chemie Grünenthal finally take Contergan off the market. (13)
Also, in other countries around the world including Brazil,
Italy, Japan, and Sweden and Canada drugs containing thalidomide
were not withdrawn until a year or longer after Grünenthal's
withdrawal of the drug. (14)
As a consequence, to the thalidomide tragedy there has been a
marked upsurge in the number of animals used in testing of new
drugs. In addition, drugs are now specifically tested on
pregnant animals to supposedly safeguard against possible
teratogenic effects on the human foetus. Vivisector's claim that
if such tests were carried out prior to thalidomide's release,
birth deformities in humans would have been discovered. This is
of course sheer nonsense. "In pregnant animals, differences in
the physiological structure, function, and biochemistry of the
placenta aggravate the usual differences in metabolism,
excretion, distribution, and absorption that exist between
species and make reliable predictions impossible." (15) (Dr
Robert Sharpe, former senior research chemist.)
In fact when the link between human foetal abnormalities and
thalidomide was established (through clinical observation), the
world-wide explosion of animal testing, using a large range of
species, proved very difficult to duplicate the abnormalities.
(16) Writing in his book Drugs as Teratogens, J.L. Schardein
observes: "In approximately 10 strains of rats, 15 strains of
mice, eleven breeds of rabbit, two breeds of dogs, three strains
of hamsters, eight species of primates and in other such varied
species as cats, armadillos, guinea pigs, swine and ferrets in
which thalidomide has been tested teratogenic effects have been
induced only occasionally." (17) Eventually after administrating
high doses of thalidomide to certain species of rabbit (New
Zealand White) and primates could similar abnormalities be
found? However, researchers pointed out that malformations, like
cancer, could occur when practically any substance, including
sugar and salt, is given in excessive doses. (16)
All this just reaffirms what many doctors and scientists have
been warning for a number of decades-animal experimentation
misleads science and any similarity to the human situation is
merely a coincidence and cannot be verified until the experiment
is repeated on humans. Experimenting on animals is like playing
The massively increased use of test animals following the
thalidomide tragedy only served to dupe the public, encouraging
it to keep consuming animal tested drugs. Consequently,
malformations are increasing. Over twenty years later, on July
19, 1983, a headline in the New York Times revealed: "Physical
and Mental Disabilities in Newborns Doubled in 25 Years". More
recently, the March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation, an
organisation responsible for monitoring birth defects, reveals
that every year more than a quarter million babies (1 in 12) are
born with birth defects in the United States.
In West Germany's authoritative medical journal Münchner
Medizinische Wochenschrift, 1969, Dr W.Chr. Müller of the
nation's First Gynaecological University Clinic reported that an
extensive survey by German doctors had revealed that "for 61% of
all malformed children born alive and 88% of all stillborn
children the intake of various drugs had to be held
While drug companies continue to be allowed, releasing their
products based on phoney, alibi animal experiments is there any
wonder why humanity continues to suffer drug-induced problems of
Published in the Spring 1996 issue of the CAFMR Newsletter.
Copyright 1996 by the Campaign Against Fraudulent Medical
Research, P.O. Box 234, Lawson NSW 2783, Australia. Phone +61
The above article may be downloaded, copied, printed, or
otherwise distributed without seeking permission from CAFMR.
However, printed acknowledgement is required when this is done.
"Thalidomide dad's tragedy", Sunday Mirror, London, July 3,
"Thalidomide horrors show up in the children of victims", Gold
Coast Bulletin, Australia, April 26, 1995.
Sjöström, H., and Nilsson, R., Thalidomide and the Power of the
Drug Companies, Penguin Books, 1972, p. 191.
ibid., p. 189.
Sharpe, R., The Cruel Deception: The Use of Animals in Medical
Research, Thorsons Publishing Group, Wellingborough, England,
1988, pp. 105-6.
The Sunday Times Insight Team, Suffer The Children: The Story of
Thalidomide, Andre Deutsch, London, 1979, p. 32.
ibid., pp. 62-3.
McCredie, J., "Thalidomide and congenital charcot's joints",
Lancet, 1973, vol. 2, p. 1058-61.
The Sunday Times Insight Team, Suffer The Children, p. 79.
Sharpe, R., The Cruel Deception, p. 106.
Ruesch, H., Slaughter of the Innocent, Civitas Publ., New York,
1986, p. 360.
Ruesch, H., Slaughter of the Innocent, pp. 360-1.
ibid., p. 361.
Sjöström, H., et al, Thalidomide and the Power of the Drug
Companies, pp. 131-48.
Sharpe, R., The Cruel Deception, p. 107.
Ruesch, H., Slaughter of the Innocent, p. 361.
Reproduced in Drugs and Pregnancy-Human Teratogenesis and
Related Problems, Hawkins, D.F. (Ed.), Churchill Livingston,
Croce, P.,"That's why I am against vivisection" in CIVIS
International Foundation Report, Ruesch, H. (Ed.), CIVIS,
Massagno, Switzerland, Autumn 1989, Nr 7, p. 1.
Müller, W., Münchner Medizinische Wochenschrift, 1969, No. 34,
repr. in Ruesch, H., Slaughter of the Innocent, p. 365.