Vaccine trial victims in court bid to lift veil on experiments
Published 04/01/2011 | 05:00
VICTIMS of controversial vaccine trials are taking a High Court case to get confidential records on the medical experiments carried out on them as children in the care of the State.
A Dublin-based solicitor is preparing the action on behalf of Mari Steed (50), now living in the US city of Philadelphia, and Christopher Kirwan (50), from Cork, the Irish Independent has learned.
Vincent Shannon, of Shannons Solicitors, is planning to apply to the High Court for an order of discovery this month to acquire all the victims' documents from four organisations at the centre of the scandal.
This will include Ms Steed and Mr Kirwan's medical records, and documents that reveal if consent was given by their mothers for the trials.
More than 211 vulnerable infants and babies, 123 of whom were in the care of the State, took part in three confirmed trials to test new vaccines between 1960 and 1973.
The trials, one of which was carried out in the Sacred Heart Convent in Bessborough, Cork, were conducted by the Wellcome Foundation, whose income came from British drugs maker Burroughs Wellcome -- later subsumed into drugs giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK).
But it remains unclear whether the parents or guardians of the children consented to the trials, or if the foundation complied with Irish licensing legislation.
As well as these tests, details of previously unknown trials were handed over by GSK to the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse. A brief paragraph in the commission's third interim report, in January 2004, confirmed the receipt of relevant documents.
It is so far not known how many people were involved, whether children in state care were used for the trials or what medicines were tested.
Mr Shannon said the action, if successful, would compel the Department of Health and Children, the Sisters of the Sacred Heart at Bessborough, GlaxoSmithKline and the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse to release all records relating to Ms Steed and Mr Kirwan.
If the records show that they have suffered as a result of the trials, Mr Shannon said the case would proceed to ask the court for an apology and damages.
"The proposed action (would) look for medical assistance for the victims' physical or psychological injury as a result of the trials and damages for breach of their constitutional rights and assault," Mr Shannon told the Irish Independent.
Correspondence seen by the Irish Independent shows the organisations continue to hold documents on the trials.
GlaxoSmithKline's legal representative, law firm McCann FitzGerald, said: "We confirm that our client continues to hold records relating to the Irish vaccine trials conducted by The Wellcome Foundation Limited and intends to do so for the foreseeable future."
The Department of Health said all departmental records were retained "in line with normal procedures".
A solicitor for the Sisters of the Sacred Heart at Bessborough said files were held in secure storage and it had "no intention" of destroying them.
The commission shut down its investigations into the trials on foot of a court case.
As revealed in the Irish Independent earlier this year, Ms Steed (50) was effectively used as a guinea pig during the 'four-in-one' vaccine trials carried out on her between December 1960 and October 1961, in Bessborough, when she was between nine and 18 months old.
Mr Kirwan -- who still has marks from the vaccine injections all over his body -- was also in Bessborough during that time and claims to have been involved in the trials.
Susan Lohan of the Adoption Rights Alliance said victims had been forced to take action at "great personal expense" because of the State's failure to investigate the trials.
"Once again the department has to be dragged kicking and screaming to the table. They are cynically avoiding an investigation into this scandal."
The Department of Health refused to comment last night.