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Australian woman wins key Thalidomide settlement

Campaigners from the International Contergan Thalidomide Alliance attend a protest outside the German embassy in London, England.

Jeff Horwich: The baby boomers and older generations probably need no reminder of Thalidomide? But here's a recap for the rest of us, doctors in the 50s and 60s prescribed the drug for pregnant women suffering morning sickness. Turned out it caused tens of thousands of birth defects around the world before being pulled from the market in 1961. Many of the victims settled claims against the drug companies back in the 70s. But, today, a woman in Australia, born without arms or legs, reached a multi-million dollar settlement with the distributor of the drug, as a previously undiagnosed victim of Thalidomide.

For the latest, Stuart Cohen joins us from Sydney.

Stuart Cohen: Hello, Jeff.

Horwich: So I thought all the Thalidomide settlements played out decades ago. Why has it taken so long for this to come about?

Cohen: Well, the class-action suit was filed by a 50-year-old woman in Melbourne, named Lynette Row. As you mentioned she was born without arms or legs. Her mother took Thalidomide to treat morning sickness during the pregnancy, but her doctor at the time said Lynette Row's birth defects had nothing to do with Thalidomide, instead blaming them on a virus. Now, this settlement came from the drug distributor. The German manufacturer of the drug, Grunenthal, has declined to settle, and Row's lawyers say they still plan to go after the manufacturer in court.

Horwich: And who else could this settlement wind up affecting?

Cohen: Well, there are more than 100 others who are part of the class action in Australia. They'll have their claims heard by the distributor. The case is expected to pave the way for other victims around the world who've never been recognized or compensated.

Here's what Row's lawyer, Michael Gordon, had to say.

Michael Gordon: Lives and families were wrecked as person after person were told that they weren't Thalidomiders, that instead this was some freak of nature, and aberration, with no explanation whatsoever. Well mothers who said that they believed they took Thalidomide were not believed and families that were left to battle it out without compensation, without support for 50 years.

Horwich: And finally, Stuart, is there a chance we expect anything new legal action in the U.S.?

Cohen: Most likely, yes. Fortunately, the FDA never actually approved the use of Thalidomide, like so many other countries around the world had. But around 20,000 patients in the United States got access to it through samples sent to doctors for clinical trials. Lawyers in the U.S., Britain and Canada have been watching this case and say they plan to file similar suits.

Horwich: Stuart Cohen in Sydney for us, thank you very much.

Cohen: You're welcome, Jeff.

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