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Thalidomide Causing Birth Defects in Europe

Apr. 11, 1962 - The birth of thousands of deformed babies in Europe has led an American physician to appeal for stricter Federal regulations on the introduction of new drugs in this country. The appeal was made to the American College of Physicians in Philadelphia. It is based on a new study of several thousand deformed babies born to European mothers who took Thalidomide, a common prescription sleeping pill that had been considered harmless. The babies are born with useless short stub-like arms and legs to mothers who took the drug, often before they knew they were pregnant. The drug has been widely sold in West Germany and in Britain since 1958. It was taken off the market last November. It has not been sold in the U.S. The appeal was made by Dr. Helen B. Taussig, Professor of Pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins Hospital, who has just returned from a six-week inspection tour of German and British medical centers. “Thalidomide could have passed our present drug laws,” Dr. Taussig reported. “We must strengthen our food and drug regulations to include routine testing of new compounds on pregnant animals.” Dr. Taussig said that German estimates were that between 3,500 and 5,000 babies with deformed arms or legs would be born by next August when the last of the mothers who had taken the drug would deliver. About two-thirds of the babies will live, she said. Thalidomide, Dr. Taussig said, appeared to be the greatest sleeping pill ever devised. It worked quickly and left no hangover. Thalidomide was trade-named Kevadon by the American drug company that planned to introduce it here. However, the American concern, the William S. Merrill Company, did not obtain Federal approval to sell the drug here because officials were suspicious of it. Dr. Taussig remarked that the drug-caused deformation of the babies, known medically as phocomelia, “is the most ghastly thing you have ever seen.”


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