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".

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