September 16, 2005


The German government has closed its compensation fund for former East German athletes who were drugged without their consent.

In case you are not familiar with the East German story, an investigation after the reunification of East and West Germany concluded that almost all of East Germany's top athletes were participants in a state-run doping program in the 1970s and 80s. It is estimated that perhaps 10,000 athletes were part of the program — some as young as 10 years old when they started. None of those athletes were given a choice in the matter, and most were not even informed about what they were being given.

The fund was initially created with $1.8M (US) in government funding in 2001. It has finished its business by awarding $12,700 (€10,400) to 193 athletes, for a total of about $2.4M. It is not clear where all of the money came from; the original plan called for sports organizations and the German Olympic Committee to chip in, although early news stories reported that neither group was "keen" to get involved.

Of course, as I wrote before, a few thousand dollars is ludicrously small compensation for having your body destroyed in a national chemistry experiment. One of the stories reported that the government fund received 308 claims, implying that more than 100 applicants received nothing at all.

And what about the number of applicants? If there were 10,000 people who were put on anabolic steroids in their youth, and only 308 of them made claims for compensation, what can we conclude? That 95% of those athletes are perfectly healthy today in spite of the drug abuse? That most of them are too ashamed to come clean, even though their secret is already out? That the criteria for receiving compensation were set ridiculously high?

A group of 160 athletes are also participating in a lawsuit against Jeppenharm, one of the East German drug companies that manufactured steroids for athletes. The athletes are seeking $24,000 each in damages, plus payment of medical expenses.

This is double what was reported in my previous post in March, but it still seems incredibly small to me. Again, I am not assuming that the drug company will be found guilty; but if I had been a human guinea pig for my government, without my consent, I'd be expecting a hell of a lot more than $24,000 in compensation.

There's more on the lawsuit at, including this quote from one of the athletes' lawyers:

The problem is one of German law. If you cheat on your taxes you go to jail for three and a half years and pay a very big financial penalty, but if someone rips your eye out in the street, you’ll be lucky to get 10,000 Euros. The integrity of the body is not something of high value in law here.

Sounds like a lucky break for the drug company. The article also raises the possibility that some former victims who live abroad might choose to bring their case before a court in another country. And I think if you were to bring this case to a US court, for example, you would blow by $24,000 without even breaking a sweat.


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