Thalidomide: David Mason is no hero

A girl without arms uses her feet to play a board gameLast Thursday there was a BBC documentary about thalidomide, the drug used to suppress sickness in pregnant women which was responsible for serious birth defects in the children of the women who took it. The programme focussed on David Mason, a shareholder in the company which manufactured thalidomide in the UK and whose daughter Louise was affected (born with no arms or legs). Mason vetoed a confidential £3m settlement and proceeded to use the media to pressure Distillers to accept a much bigger settlement, ultimately successfully. However, a brief search for his name reveals less heroic details about Mason that the BBC chose to gloss over: that this wealthy man consigned Louise to an institution as a child, where she remained until age 17. (The Telegraph’s review notes that the programme favoured the voices of journalists and of Mason over those of survivors, and only briefly mentions the current legal action against Grunenthal, the German developer of thalidomide.)

It’s fairly well known that in the 1960s it was quite common for children who were disabled from birth to be left in institutions, and for some doctors to tell parents to “leave it with us and go away and have another”, or words to that effect. There was much less (if any) support for raising disabled children at home and the only education available was at special boarding schools. Parents faced a fight, as did the children, but the decision was left up to the parents; they were not forced to give up their disabled children. It may be a huge sacrifice to be a full-time carer (although if the child is purely physically disabled, it is much less so than when they are, say, autistic with severe and violent challenging behaviour), it’s a greater sacrifice to spend years in an institution so as to avoid disrupting others’ lives or careers. Many of these institutions were cesspits of abuse and neglect. At Chailey, the institution in Sussex that housed many thalidomide victims, the children were addressed by numbers by staff, not by their names, and most of the thalidomide victims were forced to wear heavy and cumbersome prosthetics. If you were going to protect your child from all this, it helped if you were rich and well-connected — someone who could get substantial articles published about his plight in the Daily Mail and the Sunday Times, and get Rupert Murdoch to help him with a publicity campaign, is one useful definition of this.

The programme featured interviews with a number of thalidomide survivors (now in their 50s) and mentioned that some parents used their ingenuity to make their homes accessible to their disabled children. Yet it only briefly mentioned that Louise Mason (now Medus-Mansell) was in an institution, and got bullied there during the dispute over the confidential deal, not that she spent her entire childhood there, as a brief search for Mason’s name will reveal (see this interview with Louise Medus-Mansell from 2009, for example). It did not mention that she was raped there as a teenager (by another young person, not a member of staff). It allowed Mason to say that he withdrew into himself and became depressed after the final settlement was reached; it did not say that he all but disappeared from his daughter’s life, and she was often the only child there who was not visited. It also did not mention that after leaving Chailey, Louise decided to go to the Star College while her father wanted her to go into a “home” for disabled adults, and that she had to sleep rough during the holidays.

The programme was too focussed on a flawed “hero” who ran a campaign that benefited others although it put back by years the time that benefit was delivered. Meanwhile, some of the parents he was fighting were actually caring for their disabled children full-time and could have done with the compensation while their children were children. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that this was a variant of the “white saviour” phenomenon in film, where the only white man in sight is the hero and the natives are either villains or victims. Race wasn’t the issue here, but class, wealth and connections were: Mason was obviously someone the media could contact very easily, and was an affable individual with a normal appearance, no speech impediment and well-developed media skills who the reporters could deal with easily. As plenty of people at the BBC (like the rest of the British media) are public school products, judging a parent who de-parented his or her child by dumping them in an institution would be like judging their own, but there’s really no excuse for doing that to your child when you’ve got money. It goes to show why many adult disabled activists distrust high-profile parent activists: they tend to support and justify each other and gloss over their failures, even when they withhold care and even when they kill their kids.

Possibly Related Posts:


Share
  • Ivo Cerckel

    Could professor Herman Cousy be the real hero ?

    Legal tabloids tell us that thalidomide is an example of the development-risk defence which allows producers [and, I submit, governments licensing the products,] to escape liability if they prove that the state of scientific and technical knowledge at the time when they put the product into circulation [, c.q., I submit, at the time when they allowed the product onto “their” markets,] was not such as to enable the existence of a defect to be discovered,

    as defined at present “a contrario” in article 15(1)(b) of the 1985 EEC Product Liability Directive, formally Council Directive 85/374/EEC of 25 July 1985 on the approximation of the laws, regulations and administrative provisions of the Member States concerning liability for defective products which provides that:

    ” each Member State may by way of derogation … maintain … or provide in [its] legislation that the producer shall be liable even if he proves that the state of scientific and technical knowledge at the time when he put the product into circulation was not such as to enable the existence of a defect to be discovered. “

    Dr. Herman Cousy, professor emeritus from the law department of the K.U. Leuven, reports in note 28 of his 1996 paper “The Precautionary Principle: A Status Questionis” published in the “Geneva Papers on Risk and Insurance – Issues and Practice”, also available on the website of the “Geneva Association”, l’ “Association Internationale pour l’Etude de l’Economie de l’Assurance”, the leading international think tank of the insurance industry, that:

    ” One often cites the Thalidomide (Contergan) case as an example of a development risk situation, although it appears that when thalidomide was brought onto the German market, the product had been banned in France. “

    And professor Cousy goes on to ask in the note: ” Can it be readily upheld, under such circumstances, that the conditions for a “development risk” situation situation were fulfilled? ” Herman Cousy, “The Precautionary Principle: A Status Questionis”, in:”The Geneva Papers on Risk and Insurance – Issues and Practice”, 1996, 158 https://www.genevaassociation.org/media/231494/ga1996_gp21%2879%29-cousy.pdf p. 163, footnote 28

    Mason must have known this. He must have known that after the product had been banned in France, it was “somehow” allowed on the market in West Germany (and in the UK of NI and GB).

    Truth is ad-equation / con-“form”-ity between the thing and the intellect (“adequatio” rei et intellectus”), said Thomas Aquinas.

    What is it that makes, and made 57 years ago when thalidomide was brought on the West German market, this con-“form”-ity so difficult to achieve?

    Is it the “form” of the thing (“res”, genitive “rei”, in Latin), the “form” of the body of thalidomide monsters like myself?

    Of course, the bribed bureaucrats could not be blamed fifty-seven years ago.

    Chinese police charge British former head of GSK in China with bribery By Megha Rajagopalan and Kazunori Takada BEIJING/SHANGHAI Wed May 14, 2014 3:08pm BST http://uk.reuters.com/article/2014/05/14/uk-china-glaxosmithkline-idUKKBN0DU05I2014051

    Some parents, such as my father, a medical doctor on the continent who had been forced to marry my mother, administered thalidomide on purpose. He never faced prosecution, of course.

    Ask yourself why fourteen years ago Ihad to flee Europe - for a place where life is cheaper.

    The Sunday Times reported on 13 September 2009 that documents have emerged which suggest that scientists led by a British professor had discovered a compound with an almost identical chemical formula to thalidomide in 1949. The NHS was created in 1948. Is there a link?

  • Ivo Cerckel

    Could professor Herman Cousy be the real hero ?

    Legal tabloids tell us that thalidomide is an example of the development-risk defence which allows producers [and, I submit, governments licensing the products,] to escape liability if they prove that the state of scientific and technical knowledge at the time when they put the product into circulation [, c.q., I submit, at the time when they allowed the product onto “their” markets,] was not such as to enable the existence of a defect to be discovered,

    as defined at present “a contrario” in article 15(1)(b) of the 1985 EEC Product Liability Directive, formally Council Directive 85/374/EEC of 25 July 1985 on the approximation of the laws, regulations and administrative provisions of the Member States concerning liability for defective products which provides that:

    ” each Member State may by way of derogation … maintain … or provide in [its] legislation that the producer shall be liable even if he proves that the state of scientific and technical knowledge at the time when he put the product into circulation was not such as to enable the existence of a defect to be discovered. “

    Dr. Herman Cousy, professor emeritus from the law department of the K.U. Leuven, reports in note 28 of his 1996 paper “The Precautionary Principle: A Status Questionis” published in the “Geneva Papers on Risk and Insurance – Issues and Practice”, also available on the website of the “Geneva Association”, l’ “Association Internationale pour l’Etude de l’Economie de l’Assurance”, the leading international think tank of the insurance industry, that:

    ” One often cites the Thalidomide (Contergan) case as an example of a development risk situation, although it appears that when thalidomide was brought onto the German market, the product had been banned in France. “

    And professor Cousy goes on to ask in the note: ” Can it be readily upheld, under such circumstances, that the conditions for a “development risk” situation situation were fulfilled? ” Herman Cousy, “The Precautionary Principle: A Status Questionis”, in:”The Geneva Papers on Risk and Insurance – Issues and Practice”, 1996, 158 https://www.genevaassociation.org/media/231494/ga1996_gp21%2879%29-cousy.pdf p. 163, footnote 28

    Mason must have known this. He must have known that after the product had been banned in France, it was “somehow” allowed on the market in West Germany (and in the UK of NI and GB).

    Truth is ad-equation / con-“form”-ity between the thing and the intellect (“adequatio” rei et intellectus”), said Thomas Aquinas.

    What is it that makes, and made 57 years ago when thalidomide was brought on the West German market, this con-“form”-ity so difficult to achieve?

    Is it the “form” of the thing (“res”, genitive “rei”, in Latin), the “form” of the body of thalidomide monsters like myself?

    Of course, the bribed bureaucrats could not be blamed fifty-seven years ago.

    Chinese police charge British former head of GSK in China with bribery By Megha Rajagopalan and Kazunori Takada BEIJING/SHANGHAI Wed May 14, 2014 3:08pm BST http://uk.reuters.com/article/2014/05/14/uk-china-glaxosmithkline-idUKKBN0DU05I2014051

    Some parents, such as my father, a medical doctor on the continent who had been forced to marry my mother, administered thalidomide on purpose. He never faced prosecution, of course.

    Ask yourself why fourteen years ago Ihad to flee Europe - for a place where life is cheaper.

    The Sunday Times reported on 13 September 2009 that documents have emerged which suggest that scientists led by a British professor had discovered a compound with an almost identical chemical formula to thalidomide in 1949. The NHS was created in 1948. Is there a link?

  • Brandon O’Bain

    What puts you in a position to be able to make a judgement on the choices that David Mason made with regard to his daughter’s care ? Are you the parent of a disabled child yourself ?
    Can you confidently say that if you were the parent of a disabled child in the 1960s that you would have chosen to care for the child at home ? It’s oh so easy to judge people from afar, without knowing everything about them. It can be very different when you are in that position yourself. Go ahead and sit in your comfortable arm chair and point your finger. Go ahead and be self righteous. Does it make you feel good about yourself ? It seems to me that David Mason worked night and day to fight for the cause of these children. He sacrificed his family life and his mental well being for what was ultimately a massive benefit for these children. Can’t help but feel you have a hidden agenda behind this article, seems like you want to go out of your way to find any reason to doubt the integrity and convictions of the good work this man did. You’re guilty of the very things you accuse the BBC documentary of.

  • Brandon O’Bain

    What puts you in a position to be able to make a judgement on the choices that David Mason made with regard to his daughter’s care ? Are you the parent of a disabled child yourself ? Can you confidently say that if you were the parent of a disabled child in the 1960s that you would have chosen to care for the child at home ? It’s oh so easy to judge people from afar, without knowing everything about them. It can be very different when you are in that position yourself. Go ahead and sit in your comfortable arm chair and point your finger. Go ahead and be self righteous. Does it make you feel good about yourself ? It seems to me that David Mason worked night and day to fight for the cause of these children. He sacrificed his family life and his mental well being for what was ultimately a massive benefit for these children. Can’t help but feel you have a hidden agenda behind this article, seems like you want to go out of your way to find any reason to doubt the integrity and convictions of the good work this man did. You’re guilty of the very things you accuse the BBC documentary of.

  • Mossetta

    Good Lord, the world then was very different from the one we live in today - for starters the press would never have closed shop for fear of reprecutions they would have taken the fight even if were not true. David Mason instituionalised his daughter because that was the norm - the norm was not to keep your children at home if they had a disability, thalidamide was not the only disability for which children were institutionalised - downs syndrome, spina bifida, epilepsy, some were insitutionalised if they found themselves pregnant as a teenager. One does not suggest that it was correct but in 50 years time whose to say that our grandchildren won’t be questioning our way of life. I have no doubt that life for Louise was difficult in the institution, as it was for others in the same situation, in fact for any child who had the misfortune to be in an institution. However, had David Mason settled for the derisory £8,000 thalidamide would have ‘died a death’ it would have been swept under the carpet. His fight opened the door for those affected to have better lives - to not be instituionalised for the rest of their lives - not that that would be possible as such institutions have long since closed causing untold anguish to the residents forced to live an unfamiliar life. It gave them the opportunity to come together and take the fight on themselves, to seek accountability. Todays documentary was not about Mr Masons relationship with his daughter, it was about the injustice that occured in an era when it was expected that we would say ‘Oh well’ something you nor I would settle with in todays world. We would take to our social media sites and create a world wide outcry within just a few hours. David Mason didn’t do it for personal gain he did it for his familiy, for his wife, for his daughter, for all those other families who were not expected to grieve for the complete child that they had excitedly expected!.

  • Mossetta

    Good Lord, the world then was very different from the one we live in today - for starters the press would never have closed shop for fear of reprecutions they would have taken the fight even if were not true. David Mason instituionalised his daughter because that was the norm - the norm was not to keep your children at home if they had a disability, thalidamide was not the only disability for which children were institutionalised - downs syndrome, spina bifida, epilepsy, some were insitutionalised if they found themselves pregnant as a teenager. One does not suggest that it was correct but in 50 years time whose to say that our grandchildren won’t be questioning our way of life. I have no doubt that life for Louise was difficult in the institution, as it was for others in the same situation, in fact for any child who had the misfortune to be in an institution. However, had David Mason settled for the derisory £8,000 thalidamide would have ‘died a death’ it would have been swept under the carpet. His fight opened the door for those affected to have better lives - to not be instituionalised for the rest of their lives - not that that would be possible as such institutions have long since closed causing untold anguish to the residents forced to live an unfamiliar life. It gave them the opportunity to come together and take the fight on themselves, to seek accountability. Todays documentary was not about Mr Masons relationship with his daughter, it was about the injustice that occured in an era when it was expected that we would say ‘Oh well’ something you nor I would settle with in todays world. We would take to our social media sites and create a world wide outcry within just a few hours. David Mason didn’t do it for personal gain he did it for his familiy, for his wife, for his daughter, for all those other families who were not expected to grieve for the complete child that they had excitedly expected!.

  • Ray

    I’ve just watched the program and read this blogg is David Mason a hero ? I think so !

  • Ray

    I’ve just watched the program and read this blogg is David Mason a hero ? I think so !

  • Anders Beatty

    An opinionated, unresearched and badly written blog based on conjecture and rhetoric. Judgemental and self satisfied writing at its very worst. Unimpressive. As for why? Please see the other threads in reply to your blog.

  • Anders Beatty

    An opinionated, unresearched and badly written blog based on conjecture and rhetoric. Judgemental and self satisfied writing at its very worst. Unimpressive. As for why? Please see the other threads in reply to your blog.