Health Minister Rona Ambrose says she will meet as soon as next week with thalidomide survivors, Canadians who were born with severe birth defects after their mothers were prescribed the Health Canada-approved drug in the 1960s.
There are only about 95 survivors in Canada, according to the Thalidomide Victims Association of Canada. The association is calling on the federal government to provide $100,000 a year to each of them. The birth defects include being born without limbs or with shortened limbs.
"This was an unbelievably, incredibly tragic event and while it happened in the 60s, it reminds me as health minister of why we have to be so incredibly vigilant about drug safety and the drug approval process," Ambrose said Thursday at a press conference in Ottawa.
The health minister said she and her officials got in touch as soon as they saw a newspaper feature over the weekend.
"We already have officials working on the request that they've made to see what options would work best," she said.
'The compensation they deserve'
Ambrose declined to comment on how much compensation the government is considering.
"We want to talk to them about what their care needs are first and so that's the next step," she said.
The Canadian government kept the drug on the market more than three months after it was banned in the U.K., but didn't provide much compensation despite the need for ongoing assistance or care by those affected.
MPs on Thursday afternoon started debating an NDP motion calling on Canada to provide support to survivors.
The vote is set for next week. The NDP says it anticipates all-party support for the motion.
"It’s time the survivors of this tragedy get the compensation they deserve, so they can afford the long-term care they require to live with dignity," NDP health critic Libby Davies said in a news release.