One stubborn United States Food and Drug Administration medical officer refused to say yes to a questionable drug named thalidomide.
In doing so, Canada-born Dr. Frances Oldham Kelsey saved American children from the horrors of deformities and other ailments which were starting to surface in the wake of European mothers taking thalidomide to relieve morning sickness.
The doctor, hailed by many as a hero of the 20th century, died this month. She was 101.
The New York Times recently chronicled Kelsey’s battle against thalidomide which took place in 1960 and 1961. She reviewed the application of American drug producer William S. Merrell, who was petitioning to produce thalidomide and make it available to pregnant women in the United States. At the time, the drug was available in Europe.
Merrell pushed to have the drug approved, while Kelsey pushed back. In the meantime, reports from Europe started flooding in: children of mothers who took thalidomide were being born with flipper-like limbs.
Kelsey’s refusal to dismiss her better judgement earned her “honorary degrees,” a congressional “medal for service to humanity,” and other honors.
She was hailed by citizens’ groups and awarded honorary degrees. Congress bestowed on her a medal for service to humanity and passed legislation requiring drug makers to prove that new products were safe and effective before marketing them.
The Gulf News also reported Kelsey’s passing, noting the praise President John F. Kennedy gave the doctor during a White House ceremony.
Kennedy praised Kelsey for her “exceptional judgement” and how she “prevented a major tragedy.”
Her exceptional judgement in evaluating a new drug for safety for human use has prevented a major tragedy of birth deformities in the United States.
The BBC also hailed Kelsey contributions, noting that, this past month, Canada awarded her the Order of Canada commendation.