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Thursday, September 06, 2012

Thalidomide apology and Philip K. Dick

When I saw in the news that the makers of the morning sickness medication, Thalidomide, had finally officially apologized 50 years after their drug caused awful birth defects, I was reminded of a book I'd read long ago by Philip K. Dick, Dr. Bloodmoney, or How We Got Along After the Bomb, which had a character who'd suffered from Thalidomide induced defects. I don't remember the book very well but that one aspect of it stayed with me, in part because of the skin-crawling 'there but for fortune' possibilities of such terrible fates (you can read about the book at Wikipedia).

Here's a bit from an article in Forbes on the apology ...

Thalidomide: A Specter Still Haunts the World

[...] Personally, it was a reminder to me of the forces and events that have shaped my own sensibilities, political and otherwise. In fact, I’d group thalidomide with the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement as formative impacts in my life. I’m particularly haunted by the medium through which those impacts were made. Dead soldiers and civilian babies, hoses turned savagely on peaceful protesters, limbless children held fast by agonized parents…Then as now, visual images mold our perceptions and transform our lives.

Morally, it was a reminder that no one can escape the shadow of the past; that, somehow in some way, we eventually confront the demons of our own actions, individual or corporate. They call it karma, from which there’s no escape by simply writing a settlement check to remit ancient sins or recent misdeeds.

Historically, it was a reminder of how the thalidomide nightmare helped shape the current environment in specific practical ways. Class actions and plaintiffs’ lawyers cast as moral avengers; aggressive regulation on all business fronts (nowhere more so than with food and drugs); lobbyists enlisted to ease the burden on manufacturers and NGOs deployed in the opposing cause – the thalidomide litigation and public furor were indeed eloquent precursors to our current mélange.

Professionally, it was a reminder that, for all that companies may be learning in terms of crisis communications, there are still situations that sorely test those evolving skills. In that context, the Grünenthal Group’s current ordeal merits a closer look .

Grünenthal’s chief executive Harald Stock not only apologized for the suffering of thalidomide victims, he apologized for not apologizing. “We ask that you regard our long silence as a sign of the shock that your fate caused in us,” said Stock, speaking in the city of Stolberg, where Grünenthal is based. The occasion was the unveiling of a bronze statue of a child born without limbs – again, a reminder that powerful visual images drive events .......

3 Comments:

Anonymous Richard said...

Hi Crystal. I was really drawn to that kind of post apocalyptic SF in high school. I was a member of the duck and cover generation, when we lived in Nevada we would feel an occasional seismic jolt from underground testing several hundred miles away (check this link just for fun,http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I9lquok4Pdk). And I remember those stark pictures of Thalidomide babies in Life magazine. I guess fiction like Dr. Bloodmoney helped capture and express a lot of the paranoia and anxiety of the era. Odd now though realizing that the 80's future he projected back then is now almost a distant past.

12:17 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Richard,

Thanks for the video link - wow, I had no idea therehad been so many detonations ... we should all be tiotal mutants by now :)

I used to read a lot of post-apocalyptic stuff too. I want to some of the older ones like 'Where Last the Sweet Birds Sang' by Kate Wilhelm and 'Dreamsnake' by Vonda McIntyre but the few audio copies the library has always seem to be checked out. One of the most depressing but best written ones I've read was 'The Road'.

2:42 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

That should en 'total' mutants :)

2:42 PM  

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