Silent Shock: The Men Behind the Thalidomide Scandal and an Australian Family's Long Road to Justice

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Text Publishing, May 22, 2015 - Social Science - 400 pages

The baby started to come out. Head first, everything OK. But then I saw that there were no arms. And then no legs. The little girl had only a torso and a head.

Lyn Rowe was born in Melbourne in 1962, seven months after her mother Wendy was given a new wonder drug for morning sickness called thalidomide.

For fifty years the Rowe family cared for Lyn. Decades of exhausting, round-the-clock work. But then in 2011 Lyn Rowe launched a legal claim against the thalidomide companies. Against the odds, she won a multi-million-dollar settlement.

Former journalist Michael Magazanik is one of the lawyers who ran Lyn’s case. In Silent Shock he exposes a fifty-year cover up concerning history’s most notorious drug, and details not only the damning case against manufacturers Grünenthal—whose enthusiastic promotion of their lucrative drug in the face of mounting evidence beggars belief—but also the moving story of the Rowe family.

Spanning Australia, the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, Canada, Sweden and, of course, Germany, Silent Shock is an epic account of corporate wrongdoing against a backdrop of heroic personal struggle and sacrifice.

Michael Magazanik has worked as a journalist for the Age, the Australian and ABC-TV, and is now a lawyer with Slater & Gordon. He lives in Melbourne with his partner and three children.

‘Magazanik exposes myths and concealments on a grand scale... A compelling read. Highly recommended.’ BookMooch

‘Magazanik—a lawyer on the Rowes’ legal team and a former journalist—has woven an extraordinary story...Magazanik has moulded [the Rowes'] story into a modern Australian myth, the battlers who took on the pharmaceuticals and won.' Age/Sydney Morning Herald

‘A harrowing read of the damage wrought by this infamous drug.’ WA Today

‘A frightening account of secrets in the pharmaceutical industry and the inspiring story of a family and their legal team that just wouldn't give up.’ Law Society Journal

Silent Shock is an ambitious, important book...Magazanik does an excellent job.’ Australian Book Review


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User Review  - PhilipJHunt - LibraryThing

Some time in the early 1980s I read "Suffer the Children", the Sunday Times book about the thalidomide tragedy. I considered it the last word on the matter. It never occurred to me that this was just ... Read full review

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“In August 2012 Grunenthal’s chief executive Harald Stock…expressed sincere regret at the harm caused by thalidomide, and apologised for the company’s fifty-year silence. ‘We ask that you regard our long silence as a sign of the silent shock that your fate has caused us’”
Silent Shock is the first book by Australian journalist and lawyer, Michael Magazanik. As part of the legal team for thalidomider, Lyn Rowe’s action against parent drug manufacturer Grunenthal, and Australian distributor, Distillers, Michael Magazanik had access to a staggering amount of information about the whole thalidomide scandal. In this book, he tells several stories concurrently: the development and marketing of the drug by the German manufacturer; the marketing and distribution by licensees in other countries, in particular, the United Kingdom, USA and Australia; just how Lyn Rowe became a thalidomider (a story common to many of the victims); and the work and time involved in Lyn’s legal action for compensation.
Many potential readers will think they know the story of the thalidomide scandal: this book will have a few surprises for them, as Magazanik exposes myths and concealments on a grand scale; those who have a vaguer knowledge of events will appreciate Magazanik’s thorough account of the circumstances that led to the unnecessary maiming and death of so many. And may find themselves gasping at the lies, the cover-ups and denials revealed. Many will find it hard to resist quoting facts and whole passages to those around them, or to remark on the breath-taking arrogance, the incredible greed, the lack of ethics and total amorality of those involved in the poor testing and reckless marketing of this supposedly innocuous drug.
The (mostly unsung) heroes of the whole awful saga are many: the families and carers of thalidomiders, the whistleblowers, a certain American bureaucrat, legal teams working for thalidomiders, journalists and, of course, the thalidomiders themselves who showed great courage just getting on with their lives, not to mention persisting with legal challenges against great odds. The stringent safeguards by which researchers and marketers are now bound is something for which the world can be grateful to them. That in the present day there are still thalidomiders born in some countries will stun those who think this an issue of the past. Magazanik provides a great deal of information, but his experience as a journalist is apparent as he presents it all in easily digestible form. He includes a comprehensive index and a handy chronology of events.
While the lack of justice and compensation for thalidomiders is disappointing, and the refusal of Grunenthal to accept responsibility or pay compensation, infuriating, Magazanik ends his account on a positive note, with a quote from Wendy Rowe: “It was the drug that damaged Lyn, pure and simple. But once it happened, it was up to us to turn it into a positive or a negative. Lyn has shown us all what grace and courage and determination are and we’re better people for it. She changed our direction in life. You’d never wish what happened to Lyn on anyone. But there was no changing it. We had to dig down and find the good in it”. This book has been accurately described as a compelling read. Highly recommended!

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About the author (2015)

Michael Magazanik has worked as a journalist for the Age, the Australian and ABC-TV, and is now a lawyer with Slater & Gordon. He lives in Melbourne with his partner and three children.

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