Victim reveals horror of vaccine trials' secret legacy
Published 22/08/2010 | 05:00
A CLERICAL child abuse victim revealed the full horror yesterday of the 'human guinea pig' drug trials carried out in church-run children's homes.
Hundreds of children are feared to have been subjected to the experimental trials while in the care of the Catholic Church.
Now the victims' cases could be reopened, as calls for the Government to deal with the scandal intensifies.
Legal action is being planned against GlaxoSmithKline and the Sacred Heart Order, which allowed the tests at the Bessborough Mother and Baby Home in Cork.
Campaigner and abuse survivor John Barrett, who was born at the home outside Cork city, was used as a 'human guinea pig' while in Lota industrial school, also in Cork.
"We didn't have a clue what was being done to us at the time," he said. "We only found out years later."
John, now 58, wants to know the truth behind the children's ordeal, who conducted the tests and why such experiments were allowed.
Hundreds of youngsters in children's homes are believed to have been used in trials in the Sixties and Seventies to improve vaccines for tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough.
John was used in four different experiments when he was aged 12 and 13 at the Lota home.
He said: "All of the boys of my age were taken off and given tests, X-rays and general examinations.
"Lists were made of those deemed to be 'healthy' and we would sometimes be lined up in one of the dormitories and given massive injections.
"We didn't know what we were being given. Later blood tests would be taken and those whose scars from the first injection had disappeared were given a second dose.
"Over a couple of years, this happened about four times. I don't think they were the normal injections you would expect.
"There is a major inquiry into child abuse so there should be a similar inquiry set up alongside it into medical experiments on children."
More than 25,000 youngsters spent time in Irish orphanages between 1960 and 1975, the period when the controversial one-in-four trials are believed to have taken place.
Kevin Cooney of the Adopted And Fostered Persons' Association said: "These orphans were society's most innocent and vulnerable people.
"The State participated in abusing the rights of children in their care. That is indefensible. There must be a full disclosure."
Meanwhile Health Minister Mary Harney has been called on to instruct her officials to make available all relevant information regarding the ongoing vaccine trials.
The call comes following Mari Steed, 50, breaking her silence on Friday, in the Irish Independent, into how she was subjected to a controversial vaccine trial as a baby without her mother's consent.
She said she the trial were carried out on her between December 1960 and October 1961, when she was between nine and 18 months old.
Ms Steed, who now lives in the US, and three others, are preparing to take legal action in US courts against the drugs company, GlaxoSmithKline.
Leas Ceann Comhairle Brendan Howlin, who was health minister in 1993, assured victims that an inquiry had found they suffered no ill effects from the experimental medical tests.
He admitted he did not remember the probe or its findings. The Department of Health said it was searching department archives in a bid to locate the documents.
Mr Reilly said yesterday that all the facts must be put on the table.
"It is totally unacceptable for children in the care of the State to be involved in a vaccine trial without proper information being made available, or the full consent of their parents or guardians."