This is a book with a purpose. The title 16 Weeks and Everything After reflects that his mother took the drug Thalidomide in the 16th week of her pregnancy and Whymark still bears the damage that has occasioned.
On reading this, expect a combination of personal memoir leading to the book’s start and impact since, wrapped round the author’s campaign to make people more fully aware of the extent of Thalidomide damage and the political and social climate in which it was allowed to happen.
In exchange for being so seemingly critical I would like to offer (with apologies to the author who was definitely not consulted) what I think were the key issues that were addressed and which make this book an essential read for anybody interested in medical issues, power of drug companies, responses to potential malpractice, charitable support groups and the intervention of the legal process in medical practice.
First, behind every “statistic” there will be a real person affected by the drug, carrying long-term disabilities – assuming that they survived in the first place. There will also be their family, and that could include the mother who was prescribed the drug and could carry the guilt (if not drug side effects herself).
When the damage issue became public knowledge it is suggested that the extent of the drug distribution over both location and years was covered up by the company involved and that they have never taken full responsibility for the damage they have caused.
That the extent of the damage was minimised by the denial of it occurring out with a small period of weeks across the pregnancy period.
That just as the drug was never tested for its eventual purpose, or the impact on the developing foetus in a pregnant woman, neither has there yet been systematic and comprehensive recording of, and research into, the number and extent of damaged babies.
That public “focus” on a key group of distinctively damaged babies has allowed denial of the extent of the problem.
That the use of the drug for relief of nausea in pregnancy has allowed avoidance of recognition of its wider use, worldwide – as a psychiatric treatment or as a “wonder drug” to treat cancer tumours. All with perceived failure to consider the impact on a potential foetus – or to warn of the potential risks.
The lack of basic understanding of the physiological response to the drug (developed and then offered for a broad range of medical conditions) and how damage could, has, and might still in the future occur.
What is seen as the lack of effectiveness of all medical regulatory bodies across the world in dealing with the drug companies involved (powerful and rich multinationals) in spite of the massive damage quite visibly caused.
Furthermore, the author sees the lack of “memory” of all these issues (and the background to them) means that there is potential for a similar disaster to occur again.
Even one of these issues would in itself be significant, but taken together and furthermore applied to a real (not distant) person it makes for a powerful polemic that should not be overlooked.
Obviously not all book groups select books of this non-fiction type. But if the individual reader can see their way through all the “style” and textual issues there are some very pertinent and important issues raised that are of wider application than just to the Thalidomide case.
Hilary White 4/3
Sixteen Weeks & Everything After by Paul Whymark
Matador 9781788033749 pbk Apr 2018