Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Forced Vaccine Trials in Irish Mother and Baby Homes

Having looked into Irish Mother and Baby homes we know that the treatment of the mothers and children kept there was sub-standard, to put it mildly. Women and girls were kept against their will, had their names changed in the home, often had their hair cut, were given no pain relief during labour and had their children taken away from them. Children in Mother and Baby homes had a mortality rate that was up to five times higher than that in the general population. We know there were unnecessary deaths, sometimes through malnutrition and preventable illnesses. Often times it seems like twentieth century Ireland just keeps throwing one horrible thing at us after another. Finding out about the forced vaccine trials was yet another one of those moments for me.We now know that the Department of Health in Ireland authorised three vaccine trials by the Wellcome Foundation (now owned by GSK) on approximately 298 children. Sadly we also now know that this is merely scratching the surface of the total number of children subjected to pharmaceutical trials in the mother and baby homes.

Suspicions that vaccine trials had taken place on vulnerable Irish children -- many of whom were in state care -- first surfaced in the early 1990s. In 2000, a report -- entitled the "Report On Three Clinical Trials Involving Babies And Children In Institutional Settings, 1960/61, 1970 and 1973" -- was finally drawn up. The document found that 211 children had been administered vaccines during three separate vaccine trials conducted on behalf of a drugs company, The Wellcome Foundation.
More than 123 of these infants and toddlers were residents in children's homes in Dublin, Cork and the midlands when the trials took place in the 1960s and 1970s.
Trial one involved 58 children in five children's homes in Dublin, Cork, Westmeath and Meath. The trial investigated what would happen if four vaccines -- diphtheria, pertussis (also known as whooping cough), tetanus and polio -- were combined in one overall four-in-one shot. The trial was published in the 'British Medical Journal' in 1962. The final paragraph of it read: "We are indebted to the medical officers in charge of the children's homes. . . for permission to carry out this investigation on infants under their care."
Trial two, which was conducted during the summer of 1970, saw 35 children administered with the intra-nasal rubella vaccine. It involved children from St Anne's Industrial School in Booterstown, Co Dublin, and children living in the Killucan area of Westmeath. Published in the 'Cambridge Journal of Hygiene' in 1971, the trial attempted to find out if German measles vaccine, administered intranasally, could spread to susceptible contacts.

Both trials were carried out by Professor Irene Hillery and Professor Patrick Meenan, from the department of Medical Microbiology in University College Dublin, and other doctors.

The final trial involved 53 children from institutional homes. The homes were: St Patrick's Home, Madonna House, Cottage Home, Bird's Nest and Boheennaburna. A further 65 children living at home in Dublin also took part. The purpose of the trial was to compare commercially available batches of the three-in-one vaccine, Trivax and Trivax AD, with that of a modified vaccine prepared for the trial. 
Dr Kiely's report said the decision to conduct such clinical trials was acceptable, given the diseases that the vaccines sought to counter. However he insisted the lack of documentation available meant it had not been possible to confirm if consent had been given by the parents or guardians of the children involved or what arrangements were arrived at with managers of the homes.
He added that this lack of information also meant he could not confirm if the Therapeutic Substances Act 1932 had been complied with in relation to the licensing of the trials.
The damning document was laid before the Irish Houses of the Oireachtas on November 7, 2000.

Michael Dwyer (Historian, University College Cork) found that 2,051 children drawn from the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary facilities at Bessborough and Sean Ross Abbey, Tipperary were part of secret vaccine trials in Ireland. In the course of his research, Dwyer says that he could find no detailed records of the trials, no inventory of consent forms and no outline of any possible side effects or illnesses caused in the children involved. Dwyer also says "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."To add further to the horror, Glaxosmithkline confirmed to Newstalk Radio that the trials in the 1960's-70's left “80 children ill after they were accidentally administered a vaccine intended for cattle.”

Christy Kirwan who was born at Bessborough also spoke to Newstalk of his experience, he was left with four marks on each arm and two on his legs, he says "My arms and legs were very badly scarred. But when I asked my Mum why she basically said when you arrived your arms were very sore and they were bandaged. I didn't know anything about vaccination trials (until later). I've since been to a few doctors and they said they'd never seen anything like it – with so many injections."

In the same interview with Newstalk Sr. Sarto insists that the mothers consent was always sought for these trials. However first hand accounts such as that of Mari Steed and her mother would indicate otherwise. Mari Steed was used as a test subject during the 'four-in-one' vaccine trials carried out on her between December 1960 and October 1961 when she was between nine and 18 months old before she was adopted out to a couple from the US. She was administered the vaccine on at least four occasions at Bessborough.   Ms Steed became aware she had been subjected to the vaccine trials after she retrieved her medical documents while trying to track down her mother, Josephine, in the late 1990s. Her records revealed that she received her first injection on December 9, 1960 and another on January 6, 1961. Despite being ill after the third injection on January 7, 1961, she was given her fourth and final shot on February 10, 1961, and a booster shot of polio on October 3, 1961. Josephine said the tests were carried out on her baby daughter without her consent or knowledge of her medical history. "They didn't ask me for my permission to give her that shot".
The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, also known as the Laffoy Commission in Ireland, investigated the drug testing in 2001, but a court order by two doctors involved in the trials put a halt to the probe by 2003. Steed and her birth mother Josephine both presented evidence to the Laffoy Commission before it was disbanded.

The new inquiry into Mother and Baby Homes has the unenviable job of looking into all aspects of the homes and hopefully will include these vaccine trials. Many defenders of the church have claimed that since vaccines are given routinely now that it's all a fuss about nothing. However those conducting trials have a responsibility to ensure that there is consent, that the trial is designed to minimise pain and discomfort and that there is no financial inducement. The issue of financial inducement in Irish institutions is yet another question to be answered. Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin has said “We have to look at the whole culture of mother and baby homes; they’re talking about medical experiments there. They’re very complicated and very sensitive issues, but the only way we will come out of this particular period of our history is when the truth comes out".
Hopefully this time around the issue of illegal and unethical experimentation on our most vulnerable citizens will not be swept under the carpet.

Note: Mari Steed is US Coordinator for the Adoption Rights Alliance, now working in conjunction with the Philomena Project. She is also a co-founder of Justice for Magdalenes. Mari has written extensively on Ireland’s adoption exportation, inter-country adoption practice, US adoption activism and the Magdalene Laundries. You can read more of Mari's work here at www.culchieworks.com.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

A Secret Buried: The Mother and Baby Scandal part 3

The TV3 documentary A Secret Buried touched on another topic that I will also be delving into over the next few days: the illegal and unethical experimentation on children in Irish Mother and Baby Homes and unauthorised handing over of children's bodies to medical students in universities. The Department of Health has confirmed that it authorised three vaccine trials between 1960-1973 by the Wellcome Foundation (now Glaxosmithkline). However Philip Delaney who was born in Bessborough Mother and Baby Home. He speaks about how he was part of an unauthorised trial for a five-in-one vaccination in 1965. Seemingly the pharmaceutical company involved bypassed the Department of Health and went straight to the homes themselves. Philip was adopted from the home and light was not shed in his involvement in the trial until doctors arrived at his home to take blood samples one day. The doctors explained to Philip's parents that he, and other children, should not have been put up for adoption as they had to travel around the country to take blood samples. Philip says that his birth mother had not given informed consent and was not aware that the vaccination was a trial. The idea of using children in vaccine trials without consent or going through proper channels is truly horrific. Even more horrific is the lack of any accountability but that should come as no surprise in Ireland. The TV3 documentary leaves this issue here but I'll be returning to these vaccine trials tomorrow in an attempt to show the sheer scale and enormity of this.

Mother and Baby Homes were not just restricted to the Catholic Church. Bethany Home in Dublin was a Church of Ireland run home which operated from 1922-1972. Girls and women from Northern Ireland would be sent south to Bethany Home. The reasons they were there varied from being an unwed mother to petty crime. Women and girls in court were given a choice between a jail sentence or Bethany Home. At any give time there would be around twenty women and children confined at Bethany. Eileen Macken spent three years in Bethany between 1937-40 in Bethany before being transferred to an orphanage. She says that her experience made her believe she was 'nobody' and that it played havoc with her life.
One of Eileen Macken's friends in Bethany was Betty Honan and later the two of them took a genealogy class together. Betty Honan discovered not only did her mother have five other children, her sister Sheila had spent two years as a child in Bethany House. Neither sister knew of the other's existence at Bethany, and later when adopted Betty was in a home on the North Circular Road, Dublin and Sheila was living in Leeson Street. Naturally Betty Honan is haunted by the time together that her and Sheila missed out on when they were young. She says "I can never forgive anyone. (It was) the most inhumane thing to do on any child".

Bethany Home also had an unusually high child mortality rate and was a dangerous place for a child to be. The Registration of Maternity Act 1934 was intended to make these homes safer for children but Bethany became even more dangerous. In the year preceding the act 57 children died at Bethany, in the subsequent year 132 children died there. In Mount Jerome cemetery, an estimated 200 children are buried from Bethany Home. Many of these children were buried on the day of their death so there appears to be little or no formality regarding the manner in which their deaths were recorded or how they were buried.

As a result of Catherine Corless' tireless work in revealing the mass grave in Tuam the Irish government have announced an inquiry into the Mother and Baby Homes in Ireland. One can only hope that such an inquiry will be full and frank and not a mere whitewash. I echo the sentiments of Eileen Macken I am "ashamed that our country has kept so much hidden. Until we get to the end of this we will not be safe. Our children will not be safe".

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

A Secret Buried: The Mother and Baby Scandal part 2

Following on from yesterdays post today I'll give the second part of a recap of the scandals that are plaguing the Mother and Baby Homes.

Bessborough House Mother and Baby home run by the Sacred Heart Sisters of Jesus and Mary opened in 1922. TV3's documentary spoke to a woman names Helen Murphy who was born in Bessborough in 1962. Helen Murphy had been placed for adoption. She left Bessborough at seven months old and spent much of her grown life feeling rejected while not knowing her true history. Unfortunately by the time her search for her birth mother came to fruition Murphy found out that her mother had died just three weeks prior however she was reunited with her sister. Again Helen Murphy maintains she was one of the lucky ones who made it out but she believes that the only way we will know the true extent of the number of children buried at Bessborough is by excavating and exhuming the site. Murphy also wants light shed on the conditions in which the mothers were treated at Bessborough.
June Goulding, a midwife who worked in Bessborough in 1951 sheds light of some of this treatment that she saw during her time there. She told the programme that there was no kindness, no empathy and that the mothers were treated like outcasts and criminals. She outlines how on attending one particularly difficult birth and noticing that there was no foetal heartbeat the nun stated that the woman would still have to suffer through. The woman in question went through 36 hours of labour to give birth to a nine pound stillborn baby. June Goulding's 1998 book The Light in the Window details further the working conditions of heavily pregnant women and girls who tarred roads, tended to gardens, polished floors etc. often well into their labours. When they were in labour they were given no painkillers, no stitches and no antibiotics for infections that occurred.
In 1951 Dr. James Deeny (Chief Medical Officer) became suspicious of the high mortality rates for children in Bessborough and conducted investigations. Despite seeing nothing out of the ordinary in his examination of the building and wards he decided to examine the children himself. Dr. Deeny found that every child had a purulent infection of the skin and green diarrhoea that someone had intended to cover up. In an unprecedented move, Dr. Deeny sacked the matron/head nun and temporarily closed Bessborough.
Which brings us to Sr. Sarto, Sr. Sarto is the Mother Superior of Bessborough and is, to say the least, an interesting woman. Over the next couple of weeks I intend to post about both her and Dr. Deeny but for quite different reasons. Sr. Sarto appears intent of defending her order and the church at all costs. She says of the nuns under her charge " I don't think it's fair. We had a good staff, some of them are still with us. I think it's sad that it has come to this". Sr. Sarto has a list of reasons why the child mortality rate was high: lack of antibiotics, close proximity etc. However before Dr. Deeny's involvement Bessborough had a child mortality rate of up to 51% with 100 out of 180 children dying in one year before Dr. Deeny's investigation. After Dr. Deeny reopened the home the child mortality rate plummeted to under 2% with yearly deaths never getting above single figures. Sr. Sarto is still indignant that this news is currently breaking "We gave our lives to looking after the girls" she says "and we're certainly not appreciated for doing it".

Mike Millotte, who was also interviewed, wrote Banished Babies in 1997, a harrowing read which outlines the extent to which children and babies were adopted and sold, sometimes out of Ireland. He details that often a mother would have her child for two years in a Mother and Baby Home before they were separated and the child taken away with often no more than an hours notice. Money changed hands for these adoptions and often couples were asked for ongoing donations for years afterwards. Despite the 1952 Adoption Act deeming money for adoptions being illegal the process was still ongoing. At least two thousand children were exported to the United States over a twenty year period after World War II. Many of these children were sold to American couples who had been deemed unsuitable candidates as prospective adoptive parents in their home country. The criteria for adoptions from Catholic Mother and Baby Homes was that prospective parents be Catholic, Mass-goers and obviously wealthy enough to afford the extortionate fees and subsequent donations to the convent.
The degree to which the mothers in the homes consented to these adoptions raises many questions. Sr. Sarto maintains, in the face of large amounts of evidence, that all these adoptions were legal and consensual. However, Mike Millotte found in many cases that the mothers did not have their rights explained to them, no other options were up for discussion and many who did sign adoption papers felt they had no other options under heavy duress. Furthermore no counselling or psychological services were ever offered to the mothers. There is an interesting note on the Adoption Rights Alliance of Ireland's website referring to Sr. Sarto which states that in 2005, Sr Sarto "secretly join(ed) an on-line adoption support group and summons some members to her office to question their posts and begins personally harassing other members via phone and letter". The entire timeline of shame can be found here and is well worth reading for a concise history of adoption out of Mother and Baby Homes amongst other aspects of Ireland's shameful history.

I thought this would be a two parter but I'm splitting again into a three parter as I want to go into further detail than is in the TV3 documentary about the vaccine trials that children in Mother and Baby Homes were subjected to. Also lest I be accused of anti-Catholic bias (again) I'll deal with the programmes findings on the Church of Ireland's Bethany Mother and Baby Home.