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Thalidomide opponent Frances Kelsey dies in Canada aged 101

Published 09/08/2015

Dr Frances Kelsey pictured in Washington, DC in 1962 (AP)
Dr Frances Kelsey pictured in Washington, DC in 1962 (AP)

Frances Kelsey, a Canadian doctor known for her tenacity in keeping a dangerous drug given to pregnant women off the US market, has died aged 101.

She died on Friday morning, less than 24 hours after receiving the Order of Canada in a private ceremony at her daughter's home in London, Ontario.

Her daughter, Christine Kelsey, said the ceremony had originally been scheduled for September but was held earlier because her mother's health was deteriorating.

Dr Kelsey was a medical officer for the US Food and Drug Administration in the early 1960s when she raised concerns about Thalidomide, a drug that was being used in other countries to treat morning sickness and insomnia in pregnant women.

Despite pressure from the makers of Thalidomide to approve the drug, she refused, and as a result, thousands of children were saved from crippling birth defects.

After the sedative was prescribed beginning in 1950, thousands of children whose mothers took the drug were born with abnormally short limbs and in some cases without any arms, legs or hips. The birth defects were reported in Europe, Australia, Canada and Japan.

Thalidomide lawsuits have been filed across the world over the years.

In 2010, the British government officially apologised to people hurt by the drug, after earlier agreeing to pay £20 million to Thalidomide's victims.

In 2013, a class action suit by Australian and New Zealand victims of Thalidomide against the drug's British distributor Diageo Scotland Ltd was settled for 89 million Australian dollars (£52.3 million).

Some victims have won compensation cases against drug producer Gruenenthal Group's distributors, but the German company has long refused to agree to settlements. It officially apologised to victims in 2012.

The drug is now being researched as a possible treatment for certain kinds of cancer.

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