Harald Stock, Chief Executive of the Gruenenthal Group, has issued the company’s first apology and acknowledgment of responsibility for its role in manufacturing Thalidomide, the drug taken by pregnant women for nausea in the ’50’s and ’60’s. The women who took the drug, primarily in Europe, gave birth to children with deformed limbs or no limbs at all. Stock apologized to the surviving mothers and to their children, saying,
“We ask for forgiveness that for nearly 50 years we didn’t find a way of reaching out to you from human being to human being. We ask that you regard our long silence as a sign of the shock that your fate caused in us.”
Wow, that’s some case of shock—50 years! And the shock affected not just the executives of the company that were around when the drug was distributed without adequate testing and so-called “flipper babies” were being born in the thousands, but two generations of subsequent Gruenenthal management too. Let’s translate this apology, shall we?
- “We ask for forgiveness that for nearly 50 years we didn’t find a way of reaching out to you from human being to human being.” Translation: “Now that we’ve followed the strategy our lawyers recommended to minimize our liability until most of the mothers have died off, we’re trying a public relations strategy so the last jury to deliberate on damages will know we’re really good people at heart.”
- “We ask that you regard our long silence as a sign of the shock that your fate caused in us.” Translation: “Because we really think you’re that gullible.”
On the Ethics Alarms Apology Scale, this one is near the bottom, and there is no provision for lowering the rating of an apology for coming so late that a significant number of the victims of the act being apologized for are dead or senile. There should be. Even without such an adjustment, Stock’s self-serving mea culpa for his company is at best a# 7 [ “A forced or compelled apology in which the individual apologizing may not sincerely believe that an apology is appropriate, but chooses to show the victim or victims of the act inspiring it that the individual (or organization) responsible is humbling himself and being forced to admit wrongdoing by the society, the culture, legal authority, or an organization or group that the individual’s actions reflect upon or represent.”] and at worst a #10 [ “An insincere and dishonest apology designed to allow the wrongdoer to escape accountability cheaply, and to deceive his or her victims into forgiveness and trust, so they are vulnerable to future wrongdoing.”]
Personally, I vote 10.
And considering the half-century tactical delay, I’d say that takes it down to about a 13.
A note to critics of the U.S. civil justice system: the European victims have received a relative pittance as their damages in this epic tragedy, which only avoided the U.S. because of more stringent drug-testing here. The Gruenenthal Group never apologized, never admitted liability and never agreed to fair financial settlements with the victims because in Europe, unlike the U.S. system, its financial risk from lawsuits was severely limited. In the U.S., the company would have been facing A.H. Robbins-level damages (not that the Dalkon Shield litigation resulted in fair compensation either) and likely bankruptcy. That might have prompted a more timely apology, if not a more sincere one.
This cynical and outrageously tardy apology should not be accepted by anyone.
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