One of the dark chapters of pharmacological history happened between 1957 and 1962. The drug thalidomide was marketed as a sedative safe enough for even pregnant women to use. And so, they did. It noticeably helped women dealing with morning sickness and insomnia.
In a post-war era when sleeplessness was prevalent, thalidomide was marketed to a world hooked on tranquilizers and sleeping pills. At the time, one out of seven Americans took them regularly. The demand for sedatives was even higher in some European markets, and the presumed safety of thalidomide, the only non-barbiturate sedative known at the time, gave the drug massive appeal. Sadly, tragedy followed its release, catalyzing the beginnings of the rigorous drug approval and monitoring systems in place at the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) today.
The horrible side effects began to emerge as babies were born with missing limbs, tiny stubs for fingers and other complications. How tragic it must have been for the chemist that first created the drug and enjoyed the initial praise for doing a good thing.
There is sometimes still a stigma associated with congenital birth defects, degenerative disease and debilitating injuries. We live in a time when we are better educated and teach our children to be respectful, but we also remember the cruel mocking and teasing that we witnessed or participated in when we were young.
During our lifetime, social responsibility has shifted from institutional care and segregation to supportive care and integration into the community. There has been concerted effort to remove shame and stigma from those who have some kind of condition or disease.