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The good, the bad and the ugly

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Few medical interventions transcend their narrow purpose, permeate popular consciousness and foster political and social change. The combined contraceptive pill, thalidomide and electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) are three examples that have achieved all these outcomes.

The contraceptive pill, first made available on the NHS in 1961 at a subsidised rate, has been free of charge, irrespective of age or marital status, since 1974. By giving women reversible control over their fertility, the pill is widely acknowledged as having been essential to the success of the second-wave feminist movement.

Described in 1962 as “the greatest prescription disaster”, thalidomide, …

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