Thalidomide was a pharmaceutical ingredient used in medicines in the early 1960s as a sedative, and prescribed mainly to expectant mothers in the early stages of pregnancy to prevent morning sickness.
It was eventually discovered that this drug was the main cause of deformities such as malformation of limbs or internal organs.
In many cases, babies whose mothers had taken the drug were born with malformations of the ear and stomach. In extreme cases, babies were born without arms.
Estimates in 1962 said that 500 such babies had been born in Great Britain and some 3,000 in Germany.
Since its introduction in 1959, thalidomide had been freely prescribed by doctors in both those countries for minor ailments such as backache, lack of sleep, morning sickness or general depression. It was withdrawn from all chemists once the terrible discovery was made that these deformations were directly linked to the drug.
In November 1962 a Belgian family and their doctor were found not guilty of the mercy killing of Corinne van du Put, their baby who was born without arms as a result of her mother taking a drug containing thalidomide during her pregnancy. Her parents and family doctor used barbiturates to poison the baby soon after her birth.