'Good news' coming soon for thalidomide survivors, Trudeau says

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told the House of Commons today that an announcement is coming shortly on expanded compensation for thalidomide survivors.

Trudeau reminded MPs the government’s recent budget mentioned the issue.

“We announced in Budget 2018 we will expand the thalidomide survivors contribution program to ensure that more survivors receive the financial support that they need,” he said. “We will have more good news to share shortly on this issue.”

He was answering a question from Conservative deputy leader Lisa Raitt, who began by saying the question was actually written by Conservative MP Gord Brown, who died suddenly Wednesday.

Conservative MP Lisa Raitt asks late Ontario MP Gord Brown’s final question in question period, about thalidomide survivors. Brown died Wednesday in his Parliament Hill office.1:07

She said Brown “had anticipated asking it in the House this week.”

Raitt said Brown was concerned that two months had elapsed without an announcement since the federal government promised to expand the compensation program in the budget.

Thalidomide was first marketed in West Germany in 1957 by the Chemie Grunenthal company. The company promoted it as effective against a number of conditions, but its primary use was as a sedative.

Thalidomide was found to cause life-altering medical problems and deformities in infants when their mothers took the drug while pregnant.

The federal government set up the Thalidomide Survivors Contribution program in 2015 to provide financial assistance to thalidomide survivors.

It offers a tax-free lump sum payment to cover urgent health care needs, and ongoing annual payments based on level of disability.

There is also an Extraordinary Medical Assistance Fund to help with medical expenses not covered by provincial health care plans, such as specialized surgery.

The problem faced by some thalidomide survivors is that they do not have the necessary documents to prove their mothers took the drug.

A group of thalidomide survivors say Kent Hehr, minister responsible for people with disabilities, made the comments during a recent meeting on compensation they were promised. Hehr doesn’t deny making some of the statements, but says they have been misconstrued by the group4:38

Last December, a group of thalidomide survivors came to Ottawa to meet with Kent Hehr, then the minister for disabilities, and complained afterwards he was insulting and belittling.

The group later met with the federal health minister, who asked her department to investigate their concerns.

Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor’s office said there will be more to say on this file within the next few weeks.

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