New program for Canadian thalidomide survivors aims to help with costs of aging

OTTAWA — Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor says the federal government is launching a new financial program in the spring for Canadians harmed by a now-banned pregnancy drug.

The Canadian Thalidomide Survivors Support Program will replace an existing one and provide a tax-free, lump sum payment to survivors to help cover health-care needs.

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Thalidomide was a drug billed as a safe, effective sedative and morning-sickness remedy when it first became available in Canada in 1959 but it was banned in 1962 after it was found to be causing widespread birth defects and infant deaths.

The new program includes a special fund to assist survivors with medical expenses such as specialized surgery not otherwise covered by provincial and territorial health plans, to help deal with new challenges that emerge as they age.

The federal government established an assistance program for thalidomide survivors in the 1990s and replaced it once in 2015.

Petitpas Taylor says the government is aware some thalidomide survivors might have been excluded by the previous program's eligibility criteria.

That compensation plan included one-time payments of $125,000 while applicants eligible for the new program are to receive $250,000 and ongoing tax-free payments.

A group of survivors, the Thalidomide Survivors Task Group, expressed disappointment over the announcement on Wednesday, saying survivors still live with physical disabilities that require more substantial financial support.

"The Canadian government's treatment of thalidomiders is shameful," it said in a statement.

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