The Irish Tuskegee


What was that about the Catholic church in Ireland and its way with the babies of single mothers with no money? Starving them, neglecting them, throwing them in a pit when they died?

Oh yes, and also performing medical experiments on them.

Scientists secretly vaccinated more than 2,000 children in religious-run homes in suspected illegal drug trials, it emerged today.

Old medical records show that 2,051 children and babies in Irish care homes were given a one-shot diphtheria vaccine for international drugs giant Burroughs Wellcome between 1930 and 1936.

There is no evidence that consent was ever sought, nor any records of how many may have died or suffered debilitating side-effects as a result.

Well of course not. They were human garbage, the children of sinners, i.e. women impregnated by men. (The men were never punished in any way.)

Michael Dwyer, of Cork University’s School of History, found the child vaccination data by trawling through tens of thousands of medical journal articles and archive files.

He discovered that the trials were carried out before the vaccine was made available for commercial use in the UK.

Homes where children were secretly tested included Bessborough, in Co. Cork and Sean Ross Abbey in Roscrea, Co. Tipperary, both of which are at the centre of the mass baby graves scandal.

Other institutions where children may also have been vaccinated include Cork orphanages St Joseph’s Industrial School for Boys, run by the Presentation Brothers, and St Finbarr’s Industrial School for Girls, run by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd.

In Dublin, it is believed that children for the trials came from St Vincent’s Industrial School, Goldenbridge, St Joseph’s School for Deaf Boys, Cabra, and St Saviours’s Dominican Orphanage.

Goldenbridge. That’s where Marie-Therese was imprisoned. It got her in the end.

But Mr Dwyer said: ‘What I have found is just the tip of a very large and submerged iceberg.

‘The fact that no record of these trials can be found in the files relating to the Department of Local Government and Public Health, the Municipal Health Reports relating to Cork and Dublin, or the Wellcome Archives in London, suggests that vaccine trials would not have been acceptable to government, municipal authorities, or the general public.

‘However, the fact that reports of these trials were published in the most prestigious medical journals suggests that this type of human experimentation was largely accepted by medical practitioners and facilitated by authorities in charge of children’s residential institutions.’

But why didn’t the church, with all its centuries of moral authority derived directly from god, do something about this? Why didn’t the nuns refuse to allow it, and the local bishop denounce it?

Because the moral authority is a pack of lies, that’s why.

Comments

  1. Al Dente says

    Because the moral authority is a pack of lies, that’s why.

    The RCC pretends to be THE moral authority on Earth while acting in blatantly immoral ways. The Catholic bishops get bent out of shape when their hypocrisy is exposed.

  2. njuhgnya says

    Wow, do you seriously not know anything about Tuskegee??? Experimenting with vaccines is absolutely less evil than allowing syphilis to progress untreated with penicillin, which was known for decades to be a cure.

  3. chigau (your display name can be anything you want) says

    njuhgnya #3
    You forgot the <sarcasm> tag.
    Right?

  4. hemlock says

    “Wow, do you seriously not know anything about Tuskegee???”

    I think the analogy is entirely appropriate, if not this situation being worse because these were children completely under the control of their caregivers and had zero choices in the matter. They were vulnerable, and overlaying this was substandard care in general with issues like malnutrition being common in this group. In the case of Tuskegee, the participants were rather manipulated into consenting with offers of medical care but still had some choices available to them.

    Also, the means do not justify the ends. Vaccines may be a good thing, but given the statements about that records simply don’t exist of any side-effects or deaths related to the trial and the known high death rate of these children it’s clear that proper follow up didn’t happen. You can also ask questions about whether placebo doses were used, leaving the children unprotected and at risk of disease or even the trial mentioned in another article I read using an intranasal measles vaccine done specifically to test whether it could spread the disease to susceptible contacts. No research is benign, that’s why informed consent is so important.

    The thing is they knew for a long, long time that testing on unconsenting subjects was unethical.

  5. latsot says

    These children (and in some cases their mothers) were sold. The specific cruelties they were subjected to are horrifying but they began with people being sold. I guess sold people aren’t really people any more so you can do what you like. It’s difficult in these cases to know whether to follow the money or the misery. Did the Catholic Church turn people into money because sin or craft sin out of obvious revenue, carefully crafted from dominance? I’m not sure it matters. They treated and continue to treat people as property. The misery flows from that as reliably as does the revenue.

    I think we can name any and all of the continuing horrors of the Catholic church and pin them without difficulty to treating people as property. Rape of children in institutions? Check. Enslaving mothers and children for profit? Check. Spreading lies about HIV and its transmission, the effectiveness of condoms, the deliberate cruelty of beasts like Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu? Check check check. Check. Check. Fucking check.

    People are their playthings because…oh, let’s say sin, a concept they themselves invented. It’s perfectly reasonable to exploit *sinful* people for money, good job we somehow get to define sin. What? you object to sinful people being horribly harmed? Are you a sinner too? Shame if something were to happen to your family. I think I see how this works.

    It starts when people feel entitled to treat people as property. I used to think it was only churches who could pull this trick off but it turns out I was wrong. Anyone can pull entitlement out of their arse and find people to support it. You’d think that if there were ONE THING {atheists, skeptics, secularists} could agree on it would be that people aren’t property. That isn’t the case. We all deal every day with atheists, skeptics and secularists who think some people are their property.

  6. karmacat says

    So, how much was the church paid for the trials? Somehow, the way the church was/is operating, I don’t think they did this for the good of humankind

  7. says

    To know the suffering of Christ is god’s most precious gift. That’s Catholic doctrine. What the church does follows logically from that. To spend any of their wealth on actually helping the helpless would be to deny His gift and to abandon their sacred obligation to administer that gift.
    If it feels good to throw a starved child into a pit, it’s not animal sadism, it’s god’s reward for piety.

  8. Sili says

    But I thought vaccines were supposed to be *good*! What are you complaining about?

    Alternatively:

    Didn’t you just complain these children didn’t receive adequate medical care? And now you’re complaining about them getting vaccines?!

  9. Sili says

    So, how much was the church paid for the trials?

    That’s a good question. Given how much documentation have disappeared, it seems that the only evidence that’s likely to still be around are old bank records. Is it possible to get hold of those?

    I’m honestly surprised that the RCC doesn’t appear to have run brothels in Ireland given their ready supply of young women.

  10. says

    Ophelia, I respect you deeply, but as someone who works with medical ethics, I believe your response is incorrect.

    The concept of “informed consent” did not appear until the 1947 Nuremberg Code, the set of judicial standards used to judge Nazi crimes against humanity with regards to their medical experimentation before and during WW II. These preliminary standards were expanded upon by the World Medical Association in the 1964 Helsinki Declaration, which proposed international guidelines for ethical medical testing; before this time, no such standards existed. As best as I can tell, the Helsinki Declaration was not adopted into Irish law until 1978. The United States did not adopt it until 1981, where it forms a part of US law called the Common Rule.

    Because informed consent did not exist as a legal concept before 1947, and because many nations did not require it until the 70s or 80s, it was quite common to tell people, “Hey, we have something that may help prevent X. Come and get it.” Children needed the consent of their parents, but there was no requirement that it be informed consent. In the case of the Irish vaccines mentioned above, the orphanages were the legal guardians, and thus had the legal authority to give consent. Before laws governing medical experimentation, there was absolutely no requirement for tests to be registered with any government authority. So while illegal by today’s laws, these vaccine tests were legal and ethical by the standards in place when they were done.

    Comparing them to the Tuskegee syphilis experiment? Not a valid comparison. With Tuskegee, the US government recruited 600 poor African American men in Macon County, Alabama: 300 with syphilis and 300 without. This was in 1932, when syphilis was still untreatable and ultimately fatal. The trial was originally intended to find an effective treatment.

    From its start, the study was ethically flawed. The men who had syphilis were told they had “bad blood,” a folk term used to describe any unidentified illness, and their wives, fiancees and girlfriends were not told that their partner had an incurable STD. The men enrolled in the study were promised medical care and burial insurance, but only if they stayed in the study: anyone who left would lose the insurance and be required to repay all medical care they had received.

    Then a safe, effective and cheap cure to syphilis was found in 1947, with the discovery of penicillin. (Its effectiveness was established through the Guatemala syphilis experiment, which was extremely unethical even by the standards of the time, and done in Guatemala because the tests were illegal under extant US law.) Rather than throw away the 15 year investment already made in Tuskegee, the US government changed the study without telling any of the participants: they would track the men with syphilis through its terminal stages, learning more about the disease as the men died. Again, neither the men nor their partners were told they had syphilis. As the men got sicker and sicker, they started demanding this new miracle cure that was in the news: the government refused to give it to them. Those who got it anyway were presented with bills for decades of medical care, and prosecuted brutally when they were unable to pay.

    In the late 1960s, when the Helsinki Declaration was in the news, US journalists began sniffing around activities of the US government. The Tuskegee experiment eventually came to light, and was the subject of a scathing expose in July, 1972. The public outcry was huge, resulting in Congressional hearings and orders to halt the study, which formally shut down in November of that year. The NAACP filed a successful class action lawsuit against the study’s survivors and their families and the government was required to pay reparations and provide full, unconditional medical care to all people affected by the study, including wives and children.

    So on one hand, there is a four year vaccine study in Ireland that was neither illegal nor unethical by the standards of the day. On the other hand, you have a 40 year study that involved denying treatment to a fatal, curable STD so you can watch those affected die. No comparison between them is possible.

  11. says

    Ack, not enough caffeine yet. The NAACP’s lawsuit was on behalf of the Tuskegee study’s survivors and their families, not against them. Sorry about that.

  12. says

    Gregory, legal standards, yes, but ethical standards? The church claims to have absolute standards, which are thus obviously timeless, delivered to it by god. The church is very definite on this point. That’s why it’s allowed (in its own view) to be so adamant about abortion and contraception and the ordination of women: because it has a pipeline to absolute truth and morality.

  13. says

    Look, just because a corporation can get away with something doesn’t mean it is ethical. Because people may even allow something to be done to themselves or their children because they are ignorant, or display extreme deference to authority (like doctors or the Church or wealthy men and corporations) doesn’t mean those in power acted ethically. Do they really need a law, or a treaty, or a world organization to tell them something is unethical? Those ethics did not appear in a conference out of a vacuum. Reasonable people already knew shit like that was wrong.

    Specifically in reference to the diptheria vaccine, maybe these were late-stage just-before-market trials done in good faith, which is sort of one thing. But then again, maybe they had no idea what would happen and this was raw experimentation. Maybe they were trying a lot of different and unsafe formulas while looking for the cheapest way to package the vaccine. I think they are wrong either way, but the most charitable hypothesis is way better than anything else. At minimum, they were looking for the cheapest, easiest way to test a large number of children, and took advantage of a captive population which was already treated like shit. On people who couldn’t fight back if there were bad results due to gross malfeasance.

    Do no harm was not a new concept for medicine.

  14. Al Dente says

    Ophelia Benson @15

    That’s why it’s allowed (in its own view) to be so adamant about abortion and contraception

    It’s an interesting question, at least to me, that if Augustine of Hippo had been married instead of having mistresses then he might have have had a more rational view of sex and the RCC wouldn’t have had their fascination with virginity and hatred of sex.

  15. Stacy says

    Gregory, legal standards, yes, but ethical standards? The church claims to have absolute standards, which are thus obviously timeless, delivered to it by god.

    Yes, but Gregory’s point is that the comparison between this and Tuskegee isn’t valid. His argument’s convinced me he’s right.

  16. latsot says

    Two different occasions where governments tried out untested medicine on people who didn’t really get to say no are in no way the same? They seem the same to me in several ways.

  17. Juliana Ewing says

    if Augustine of Hippo had been married instead of having mistresses then he might have have had a more rational view of sex and the RCC wouldn’t have had their fascination with virginity and hatred of sex.

    Well, (a) Augustine was quite moderate on the subject compared to a lot of church fathers, and (b) considering the number of married misogynists about, I am very much not inclined to think a wife rather than a mistress would have fixed anything at all (plus IIRC he lived with one woman for years and years, pretty much a common-law marriage anyway). It’s kind of like saying that if only Jefferson had had a black mistress he would have understood that his slaves were people. Oh, wait…

  18. says

    @Ophelia Benson #15 – The overall treatment of children and unwed mothers in the care of Catholic institutions in Ireland was reprehensible and inexcusable. But your post was about vaccine trials on infants and toddlers who were under the legal guardianship of those institutions. Under the standards that existed in the 1930s, the concept of informed consent did not exist, and such decisions were the responsibility of the child’s legal guardian.

    And, in fact, are similar today. Generally speaking, medical research is done using volunteers able to make their own decisions. Sometimes, though, children are needed: studies for a new ADD medication, or developing cognitive tests to help diagnose autism, or verifying the safe dosage of an antibiotic for children aged 3 to 5. In cases where a child cannot legally give consent, informed consent is given by the child’s legal guardian. Few, if any, ethical review boards would allow children who are wards of the state to be recruited, but to my knowledge there is nothing specifically illegal about doing so.

  19. says

    I don’t know what you mean by “legal guardian,” Gregory in Seattle. Those women and children were imprisoned, having committed no crime – they were basically enslaved. I don’t consider that any kind of guardianship. I don’t consider the church or the nuns or the homes in any sense the “guardians” of those children. The captors, the enslavers, the users – not the guardians.

  20. says

    @Ophelia Benson #23 – “Those women and children were imprisoned, having committed no crime – they were basically enslaved.”

    Keep in mind that the Victorian era Poor Laws that Charles Dickens ridiculed and condemned were still in effect in Ireland during the 1930s. An unwed woman who found herself pregnant, abandoned by her family and rejected by her friends, became a ward of the state, either voluntarily by seeking help or involuntarily after conviction of “vagrancy” for living on the streets. In Ireland, the women were then remanded to homes run by religious orders who acted as agents of the state. The women were expected to pay for food and clothing by their labor for as long as they “chose” to remain: most stayed, as they too often had no where else they could go. Technically voluntary, but essentially slavery, yes.

    The children, however, became permanent wards: as a matter of law, the women had shown themselves to be unfit mothers by virtue of being an unwed mother. Even if the mother could find a way to leave one of those homes, the child stayed. Reprehensible, cruel, and misogynistic, yes. But that was how it was back then: the state legally became the children’s parent, and the nuns were empowered by the state to act in its place.

  21. says

    Gregory
    Really, I don’t see your argument.
    That it was legal?
    That it was just the way things were?
    That technically the nuns were the legal guardians?
    Your essential argument seems to be that what they did was no worse than what the Nazis did in whose wake guidelines and laws were passed.
    To me it is quite obvious that those trials would not have been acceptable when done to the children of married, middle class women. The overall treatment of these children, in their life and death shows that they were not considered “people”. Just like the Tuskegee experiments were carried out on folks not really considered “people”. On disposable bodies. And those bodies were literally disposed off.

  22. Tsu Dho Nimh says

    “Old medical records show that 2,051 children and babies in Irish care homes were given a one-shot diphtheria vaccine for international drugs giant Burroughs Wellcome between 1930 and 1936.

    There is no evidence that consent was ever sought, nor any records of how many may have died or suffered debilitating side-effects as a result.”

    Before you freak out, please avail yourselves of the services of Google U and check the development history of the diphtheria vaccine: The TaT (toxin anti-toxin mix) diphtheria vaccine was tested in New York City in the early 1920s – tricky, but better than nothing.

    Glenny’s toxoid was developed in the mid to late 1920s, with adjuvant added in the late 1920s to improve the antibody response. That’s basically the same vaccine in use today (minus some process and dosage improvements). The Burroughs Welcome one-dose vaccine was actually state of the art in the early 1930s.

    In the 1930s, diphtheria was the #4 killer of children in the UK. Diphtheria vaccine given to children were not experimental, they were trying to keep them from dying of diphtheria.

    As for consent – this was the 1930s, not 2014.

  23. Tsu Dho Nimh says

    Possible conflation of diphtheria vaccinations given in the early 1930s and a small vaccination trial of the early 1960s?

    http://www.irishtimes.com/news/social-affairs/religion-and-beliefs/investigation-into-child-vaccine-trial-halted-in-2004-1.1825261

    “concerned vaccination trials on 58 children in 1960 and 1961 ”

    That is this trial: “Antibody Response in Infants to the Poliomyelitis Component of a Quadruple Vaccine”

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1958389/

    Article PDF here:
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1958389/pdf/brmedj02864-0028.pdf

    ============
    It’s a very standard trial to see whether they could minimize the number of injections in infants and toddlers by adding the Salk killed-virus polio vaccine to the DPT vaccine.

  24. hemlock says

    #26 “As for consent – this was the 1930s, not 2014.”

    This is for Gregory in Seattle, as there is more history than that dating from 1947 and they certainly did know consent was an issue and early on there was the provision for consent, in some cases in writing, prior to that date. In particular, given these are German pharmaceutical companies they certainly did have written forms in their country of origin (although likely not as stringent as today). This fact could suggest that they deliberately sought a population with less oversight, and they found it in these vulnerable children.

    “In therapeutic clinical trials, little known use of written informed consent documents exists before the late 1940s and early 1950s.30,31 However, before this period, the use of written consent forms was not an uncommon practice in many nontherapeutic research studies. Within the United States, the first known routine use of written consent forms is believed to have originated around the turn of the century with army physician Walter Reed’s yellow fever studies.30,36 Outside the United States, written consent forms were used often in the 1920s and 1930s in German pharmaceutical company trials that involved normal or healthy subjects.31,37 The use of consent forms in Germany grew out of regulatory requirements for consent in human subject research as a result of policies dating back to 1900.38” http://jco.ascopubs.org/content/17/5/1601.long

    Getting on to the argument that these children were placed in these home, therefore they were legal guardians and it was all legally fine that isn’t necessarily the case. There isn’t anything to say those mothers made a full and free decision, but plenty to say they were forced into having their child removed and very possibly with no consent at all. I’d say that makes any steps to make them wards of the state shaky indeed. Also guardianship is usually predicated on someone looking out for the child’s welfare, and that’s not likely the case here either, with many children being poorly treated and a high death rate in these homes. It’s not likely in these trials that the welfare of the children was any consideration, and it’s a huge assumption to treat the experiments as benign and more like medical care. They may well not have been, but we’ll never know because there are no records of what happened to them.

  25. hemlock says

    Oops, might have gone wrong there, was sure one article I read referenced a German company. That said, there still was something there that meant consent was a consideration well prior to 1947.

  26. says

    @Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk- # 25 – My argument was that, while the Irish vaccine tests were unethical by today’s standards, today’s standards did not exist in the 1930s. While they would have been illegal under today’s law, they were legal under Irish law as it stood at the time.

    And Nazis? I mentioned them only as the prompt that started us towards establishing the ethical standards we have now. My point was to note that the Irish vaccine test were done in the same manner, with the same basic protocols, than all other vaccine tests going on in the 30s elsewhere in Europe. The only difference was that the children were legally wards of the state, and so it was the state and not the parents who were including the children in the study. Why they were wards of the state is a different matter entirely, but even that was done in accordance with the law at the time. I do not agree with those laws, but that does not change the fact that the test were as legal and as ethical as any other vaccine tests of the day.

    @hemlock #28 – My understanding is that many countries and states required consent, but they did not require informed consent, because the concept of informed consent did not exist until the Helsinki Declaration. It was enough to say, “We are testing a vaccine that, we hope, will keep you from dying of X. Do you want the shot?” Today, because of the Helsinki Declaration and the way most countries have adopted it into national law, they must add, “This are small chances that it could cause x1, x2, x3, x4, and maybe x5, although we have never seen it actually do x5. This is how you reach our 24/7 help if you think you are having a bad reaction, and here is a lengthy, non-exhaustive list of enumerated rights including the right to drop out of the study at any time, for any reason, without penalty.” Some countries had requirements that there be written documentation of this consent, but most did not: it was presumed that by receiving the shots, consent had been given. This casual attitude towards consent is one of the many common practices that the Helsinki Declaration wanted to change.

    With regards to minors, then as now, children were not legally competent to give consent. (Notice the word “legally:” this has nothing to do with an individual’s abilities.) As such, consent was — and still is — obtained by the minor’s legal guardians who are (in theory) acting in the child’s best interest.

    The fact is that the kind of vaccine tests on children that Ophelia talked about, and the protocols that were followed in recruiting participants to the test, were commonplace in Europe and North America. The exact same thing was happening in the UK, and France, and Spain, and Italy, and Sweden, and Norway, and the US, and Canada, and in many other countries. The Daily Mail — a paper with a well documented conservative policy, is staunchly old-line Church of England and still believes that Republic of Ireland should have remained the property of the British Crown — is judging what was a very widespread method of testing vaccines in light of 21st century standards, shoe-horning that false judgement in with the many legitimate crimes of the Irish government and Catholic Church, and screeching, “Here is another example of how beastly those filthy Irish were and are! Medical experiments on children! Oh, the humanity!” They putting a very hard political spin on the story while ignoring the fact that the exact same thing was also happening in England itself.

    And let me be clear that I am not justifying the Irish vaccine tests by saying, “Everyone else was doing the same thing.” There are many good reasons why doctors and medical researchers drew up international guidelines defining the protocols of ethical human experimentation. My point is 1. This was not unique to Ireland by any means and ignoring how widespread it actually was is gross hypocrisy; and 2. Under the laws and standards of that time nothing illegal or unethical occurred. The only story here is how the Daily Mail is spinning this into an anti-Irish, anti-Catholic polemic.

  27. says

    Why they were wards of the state is a different matter entirely, but even that was done in accordance with the law at the time. I do not agree with those laws, but that does not change the fact that the test were as legal and as ethical as any other vaccine tests of the day.

    No I don’t think you know that. You know what the laws on testing vaccines were for every country in the 1930s?

    But in any case you keep mashing together legal and ethical as if they were the same. It’s true, judges sent children to industrial schools in Ireland for trivial or bad or no reasons. That does not make it ethical! Not even by the supposed standards of the time, which of course were not One Big Standard that everyone agreed to. As always, there was conventional wisdom and there was also dissent.

  28. stewart says

    If the Catholic Church were what it claims to be, nobody would ever be imaginative enough to come up with something approaching criticism.

  29. says

    Gregory

    My argument was that, while the Irish vaccine tests were unethical by today’s standards, today’s standards did not exist in the 1930s. While they would have been illegal under today’s law, they were legal under Irish law as it stood at the time.

    And my argument is that there is a reason why these children ended up in the trial and that reason had nothing to do with the “general” standards of that time. It was not the children of a wealthy Dublin primary school. Not the kids of the “pillars of society”. Because there would have been quite a scandal if they came down with massive side-effects. It was the children in the “Mother and Baby Homes” who were used. Because those who were charged with their care and those who had to supervise that care literally didn’t care. If they died, well, there was always space in the septic tank…

  30. says

    It is ridiculous to compare these vaccines clinical trials with the Tuskegee Institute. This story is about the callous disregard of human life by the Roman Catholic Church, it is not about clinical research.

    Although I am disgusted by how medical science proceeded in the 1930’s, that’s looking backwards from my comfortable office in 2014. The Tuskegee Institute experiments was all about giving diseases to black men. You cannot even make a small moral argument supporting that, and you don’t.

    But what happened in Ireland, as offensive as it is today to how we do clinical trials, it can be said that many lives were saved through improved diphtheria vaccinations, which killed, 8 out of 100,000 people back then. May not seem like a lot, but I’m thinking saving 8 lives is important.

    They were doing the best they could back then, and it’s a disgusting and offensive strawman argument to compare Tuskegee to Ireland.

    It’s about the Catholic Church. Period. End of story.

    It’s not about the vaccines, it’s about the Catholic Church.

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