Bureaucracy finishes off thalidomide survivors

Bureaucracy is finishing off thalidomide survivors

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OTTAWA | Nearly 90% of claims for the federal Thalidomide Survivor Compensation Program are either denied or unanswered.

“They're waiting for us to die,” scolds Richard Nantes, survivor of the infamous pill given to pregnant women in the 1950s and 1960s to relieve nausea.

Richard Nantais, thalidomide survivor, is lost in federal administrative maze.

The Department of Health reports that 255 people have applied to the Canadian Thalidomide Survivor Support Program (CSST) since 2019.

But only 33 applications have been accepted and benefit financial support; 114 applicants were refused. The other 108 are still awaiting a response.

This is the case of M. Nantais, born in 1958 with both arms shorter than normal and the fingers of the hands glued to each other. His medical file establishes that his malformations are the after-effects of thalidomide.

But for three years now he has been multiplying the steps to benefit from the PCSST. He is constantly being asked for additional documents and analyses.

“I had to stop, because my wife said to me: 'I can't take it anymore, I'm in the process of get depressed,” he says.

And Mr. Nantais is not the only one. The Journal has received many other similar testimonies since the publication on Monday of the story of another thalidomide survivor, Jeanne d'Arc Otis, rejected by the PCSST.

It has been 59 years since the government acknowledged his wrongdoing and promised compensation and support for all victims. That was in 1963.

It took until 2014 for him to finally walk the talk. 

A support program was set up in 2015, and improved in 2019.

Justice gets involved

But the program is so bad fact that the Federal Court was forced to intervene in August against the use of an algorithm to triage beneficiaries.

The CSTSP uses the ValiDATE algorithm to determine whether claimants can submit their case to a forensic committee.

If the algorithm judges that a person is an unlikely or improbable case, the case is simply rejected.

This is what happened to Jeanne d'Arc Otis.

On August 9th, Judge Russel W. Zinn ruled that the algorithm should not be used as a means of eliminating people, since it is only a tool of probability and therefore cannot replace medical advice.

No hurry

< p>Since then, the government has been obliged to contact the people it has rejected so that a committee can evaluate them. But nearly three months later, it's still not done.

Ms. Otis has not heard from Ottawa. She even contacted the PCSST at the end of last August, but no one saw fit to inform her of the existence of a judgment in her favour. It was Le Journal that did it.

But the Ministry of Health is discharging its responsibilities.

“ The PCSST is administered by a third-party service provider independent, class action services Epiq Canada. Health Canada and the provinces and territories have no role in the assessment of applications,” a Health Canada spokesperson replied to the Journal.

“Qu whether they accept us or not, it doesn't change anything in their lives. But for us, it changes a lot of things,” underlines Mr. Nantais.

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