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HEALTH
Thalidomide survivor Mercedes Benegbi speaks to the media on Dec. 1, 2014.

Thalidomide survivor Mercedes Benegbi speaks to the media on Dec. 1, 2014.

Dave Chan/For The Globe and Mail

Dec. 1, 2014, was an emotional day for thalidomide survivors: In the House of Commons, MPs voted unanimously to give them 'full support' in living with their disabilities. After multiple delays and confrontations with the government, survivors now have a pension program to help them with their daily needs. Here's how we got there, and what lies ahead

Thalidomide survivor Mercedes Benegbi speaks to the media on Dec. 1, 2014.Dave Chan/The Globe and Mail

THALIDOMIDE: WHERE IT ALL STARTED

What is thalidomide? Touted as a wonder sedative for expectant mothers, thalidomide was approved for sale as a prescription drug in Canada in 1960. But the drug had terrible side effects: Many children whose mothers took it were born with deformed limbs and damaged spines and hearts, and many died. It was pulled from the market in Canada in 1962.

What happened to the survivors? Their disabilities made everyday life and work painfully difficult. Some reached confidential out-of-court settlements with the drug's Canadian distributor. In 1991, Ottawa gave Canadian victims a one-time payout of $8.5-million, or about $52,000 to $82,000 per person. This was far less long-term support than thalidomide survivors received in other countries.

How many survivors are there? As of last month, there were 94 recognized thalidomide survivors in Canada. But others who believe they were also affected by the drug are coming forward and pressing to be recognized and compensated.

The doctor who saved America from thalidomide

3:38

Read Ingrid Peritz's August obituary of Frances Oldham Kelsey, the Canadian scientist whose refusal to approve thalidomide for use in the United States saved lives.


'FULL SUPPORT' FROM OTTAWA

The Globe investigation: In November, 2014, The Globe published a special report investigating the survivors' dire financial straits, and how some were no longer getting any financial support as they grappled with aging, chronic pain and declining health. Opposition MPs pressed the government to do more to relieve victims' "immense pain and suffering."

What Ottawa did: Rona Ambrose, then the health minister and now the interim leader of the Conservative Party, met with survivors' groups to hear their recommendations for reform. On Dec. 1, 2014, MPs voted unanimously to give thalidomide victims "full support."

Thalidomide survivor Susan Wagner-White walk on the front steps of Parliament Hill on Dec. 1, 2014.

Thalidomide survivor Susan Wagner-White walk on the front steps of Parliament Hill on Dec. 1, 2014.

DAVE CHAN/FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL

Read Ingrid Peritz's report on the thalidomide survivors' emotional day in Parliament.




FITS AND STARTS

Delays and disappointments: In January, the federal government missed the Thalidomide Victims Association of Canada's deadline for a detailed financial aid package. The plan that Ottawa eventually announced in March, worth $180-million, came at only a half-hour's notice to the survivors' groups, and was less money than survivors had wanted. Survivors also began receiving lump-sum cheques for $125,000, half of what the survivors' association asked for.

The pension plan: In April, the survivors voiced "grave concerns" about the lack of detail from Ottawa about how the promised aid package would work, and pressed Ms. Ambrose to give clear answers about the plan. The next month, Ottawa responded with a pension program, offering up to $100,000 a year in tax-free compensation for the rest of their lives.

Thalidomide survivor Paul Settle is shown at his Hamilton home.

Thalidomide survivor Paul Settle is shown at his Hamilton home.

GLENN LOWSON/FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL

Read Ingrid Peritz's June report on how the federal pension helped thalidomide survivors to meet basic needs.


WHAT REMAINS TO BE DONE

Canada's new Liberal government is expected to name an administrator to run the pension program. The New Democrats have also pressed the Liberals to show a more flexible approach to the undocumented claimants, as the British government's compensation program does.

Susan Nixon was born with a crooked left arm with only three fingers and believes it is because her mother was given the drug thalidomide during pregnancy.

Susan Nixon was born with a crooked left arm with only three fingers and believes it is because her mother was given the drug thalidomide during pregnancy.

CHRISTINNE MUSCHI/FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL

Read Ingrid Peritz's November report on Susan Nixon of Montreal and others who believe they deserve thalidomide compensation.

With reports from Ingrid Peritz, Kim Mackrael and Steven Chase


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