Sat, Apr 14, 2007 - Page 6 News List

German thalidomide drama cleared

THE GUARDIAN , BERLIN

A TV drama about the thalidomide scandal which led to thousands of women giving birth to disabled children has prompted a bitter row between the filmmakers and the creators of the drug, 50 years after the anti-morning sickness pill came on to the market.

The two-part drama, produced by the Cologne company Zeitsprung for the channel Westdeutsche Rundfunk (WDR), seeks to dramatize the shocking events surrounding the way the drug came on to the market, and how the victims -- many of whom were born without limbs after their mothers took the drug during pregnancy -- were subsequently treated.

It is loosely based on the true story of a lawyer whose son was born with deformities and who spent more than a decade in the courts, fighting for recognition. Around 10,000 children were born with severe malformations as a result of the drug, half of them in Germany.

This week WDR was given the go-ahead by a Hamburg court to show Contergan -- A Single Tablet, after a lengthy court battle with the drug's maker, Grunenthal GmbH.

Contergan is the name under which the pills were marketed in Germany.

Zeitsprung has been told that the film may be shown only after certain scenes have been cut and a disclaimer added stating that the film is a fictionalisation of the real story. Zeitsprung has provisionally agreed to the changes.

"This is a victory for artistic freedom as well as for the victims of Contergan," said Michael Souvignier, the film's producer.

Grunenthal, based in Aachen, has said it may take the case to the country's highest court, claiming that the film contains gross historical inaccuracies, namely the portrayal of its alleged unwillingness to compensate victims.

"We resent the insinuation in the film that we behaved with infamy and without moral scruples," said Annette Fusenig, head of corporate communications.

She said the company paid 100 million Deutschmarks (US$68.9 million at current exchange rates) into a compensation fund.

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