A man claiming to be a victim of Thalidomide is seeking his day in court.
Bruce Wenham’s disability is manifested by a part of an arm with two small fingers on his right side and a small stump where his other arm should be. He says that was caused by thalidomide.
In January, he launched a lawsuit against the attorney general alleging the federal government’s requirements to get compensation are “effectively impossible to meet.”
The lawsuit has not yet been certified a class-action lawsuit, but if a judge approves it, it could open the door for 140 other alleged victims to seek compensation from the government.
Thalidomide was given to pregnant women in the late 1950s and early 1960s as a drug to eliminate morning sickness. The Thalidomide Victims Association of Canada estimates that between 10,000 and 20,000 babies worldwide were born suffering from severe birth defects, highlighted by deformed limbs, as a result of the drug.
Thalidomide is in use today and is considered safe for the treatment of certain illnesses.
WATCH: Toronto man files legal challenge over Thalidomide compensation program. Melanie Zettler reports.
In 2015, the Conservative government announced a compensation package for 92 Canadian survivors of thalidomide which included a one-time payment of $125,000 and a yearly pension.
To this date, 122 have qualified under the Thalidomide Survivor Contribution Program. However, 140 others were rejected because they didn’t meet the government’s criteria of having either medical records from the 1950s or testimony from the attending doctor.
“The only evidence the program allows to be considered is prescription records or a written affidavit from a prescribing doctor,” said David Rosenfeld, a class-action lawyer representing Wenham.
“I don’t know of anybody who keeps 50-year-old prescription records and the affidavit from a prescribing doctor or a doctor with first-hand knowledge. That doctor is going to be 80 years old, if alive at all.”
The United Kingdom took a different approach in evaluating survivors of thalidomide. A charity called The Thalidomide Trust provided medical experts to evaluate and determine whether or not a person was a thalidomide survivor.
WATCH: Funds for thalidomide survivors
Wenham was unable to find his mother’s doctor. He was born at Mount Sinai Hospital where medical records from prior to He did, however, have a geneticist in Toronto conclude that his deformities were the result of thalidomide.
In an interview with Global News, Wenham says “unfortunately the government is digging in its heels and is not listening to petitions or protests. It believes that that TSCP (Thalidomide Survivors Contribution Program) is fine and it’s working great when in fact it is not.”
Health Minister Jane Philpott reiterated that the government is committed to working within the parameters set out.
“There are current criteria put in place,” she says, “and the process is not yet completed in terms of assessing all of those and as the process is completed we will certainly continue to make sure we are fair to all Canadians.”
A judge will now have to decide if the case can proceed as a class action lawsuit or if each individual will have to make their own application to the court.
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