Nearly sixty years have passed since the last baby affected by thalidomide was born in the UK. The thalidomide scandal has had far-reaching effects on public trust in medicine, pharmaceuticals, the government and the law. But we rarely hear from the devastated families or the survivors, now adults, who continue to live with the consequences. In this series Ruth Blue uses a collection of audio interviews made by the UK Thalidomide Society to explore thalidomide’s history, from the shocking paucity of clinical trials that led to the drug’s prescription to pregnant women, to the stories of survivors, and the families affected.
Thalidomide, a bitter pill
Hear from some of the women who took the drug thalidomide over sixty years ago about the fear, isolation and grief that they experienced as the appalling pharmaceutical scandal unfolded around them.
In a time without scans or antenatal tests, neither medical staff nor parents were prepared for the damage to the foetus caused by the thalidomide drug.
Adapting to life as a thalidomide survivor
Growing up as a thalidomide survivor meant coping with all the usual challenges of childhood and adolescence, while having to fit into a world designed for the able-bodied.
Disability, education and prejudice
In the 1960s and 1970s, thalidomide survivors had to fight for a proper education. If they weren’t brought up in institutions, they were often viewed as objects of curiosity, encountering verbal and sometimes physical abuse, both at school and in the world beyond.
Families fighting for justice
In 1962 a group of parents whose children had been affected by thalidomide began a decades-long battle in the law courts, the media and Parliament in order to win fair justice for all thalidomide survivors.
About the contributors
Dr Ruth Blue is a freelance writer, researcher and oral historian with a PhD in fine art from the Slade School of Fine Art. She worked for Wellcome for 17 years, where she began working with thalidomide survivors in 2013, collecting their stories, photographs and artefacts. She has continued this work for the Thalidomide Society.
Hollie Chastain is a mixed-media artist and award-winning illustrator living and working in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Coming from both a graphic-design and studio-art background, her work has a storytelling quality, mixing found material, strong graphic elements and modern palettes. Along with gallery work, she has illustrated work for Smithsonian Magazine, Warner Music and the Oxford American, among others, and authored and illustrated a book published in 2017. She currently works from a home studio with her husband Eric, two children, two cats and two dogs.