Rachel Buchanan reviews 'Silent Shock' by Michael Magazanik

Silent Shock is an ambitious, important book. It is a work of history, a work of journalism, and a forensic exposé of hideous corporate negligence, all woven around the lives of one modest Melbourne family.

Former journalist turned lawyer Michael Magazanik was one of the dozens of lawyers, barristers, and researchers who worked on a recent class action against Grünenthal, the manufacturer of thalidomide, and Distillers, the drug’s distributor. The legal action was taken on behalf of more than one hundred people in Australia and New Zealand who were born with serious birth defects as a result of their mothers taking the German-made sedative.

Thalidomide was sold from 1957 until late 1961. It killed or disabled between ten thousand and fifteen thousand babies around the world. Thousands more were miscarried or stillborn.

Pregnant women were prescribed the drug for morning sickness, anxiety, and sleeplessness. Thalidomide was marketed as ‘outstandingly safe’. Its success shows how few options women had then.

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Published in August 2015, no. 373

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