Dr who stood firm against thalidomide dies

Frances Kelsey, a Canadian doctor known for her tenacity in keeping thalidomide off the US market, has died at age 101.


She died on Friday, less than 24 hours after receiving the Order of Canada in a private ceremony at her daughter’s home in Ontario.

Kelsey was a medical officer for the US Food and Drug Administration in the early 1960s when she raised concerns about thalidomide, a drug that was being used in other countries to treat morning sickness and insomnia in pregnant women.

Despite pressure from the makers of thalidomide to approve the drug, she refused, and as a result, thousands of children were saved from crippling birth defects.

After the sedative was prescribed beginning in 1950, thousands of children whose mothers took the drug were born with abnormally short limbs and in some cases without any arms, legs or hips. The birth defects were reported in Australia, Canada, Europe and Japan.

In 2013, a class action suit by Australian and New Zealand victims of the drug Thalidomide against its British distributor Diageo Scotland Ltd was settled for $A89 million.

Thalidomide lawsuits have been filed across the world over the years.

In 2010, the British government officially apologised to people hurt by the drug, after earlier agreeing to pay STG20 million ($A42.25 million) to victims.

Some victims have won compensation cases against drug producer Gruenenthal Group’s distributors, but the German company has long refused to agree to settlements.

It officially apologised to victims in 2012.

The drug is now being researched as a possible treatment for certain kinds of cancer.

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