The Irish mother-and-baby home scandal has continued to grow, with shocking allegations that children in homes for ‘fallen women’—as unmarried mothers, who often were put by their families into institutions, were known—were used as guinea pigs in vaccine trials by pharmaceutical companies.
The revelations cames as the Irish government today bowed to pressure and announced a full enquiry into the homes.
Last week, it was revealed that almost 800 children and babies were buried in unmarked graves in the grounds of a home run by the Bon Secours sisters in Tuam, County Galway. Reports that the bodies of the children had been ‘dumped’ in a septic tank have, however, proved to be wide of the mark.
However, the Irish radio station Newstalk has now claimed in an exclusive report that 80 children in a care home became ill after they were given an experimental bovine vaccine.
The children allegedly became unwell after they were given a vaccine intended for cattle in a trial at five care homes and orphanages in Dublin in the mid-’70s.
They were among 298 children experimented on in drug trials.
The information is contained in a report from the Chief Medical Officer of the Department of Health's report to the Oireachtas in the year 2000, obtained by Newstalk.
One man who was adopted from one of the homes—Bessborough House, in County Cork—and who gave his name only as Christy, said: “My arms and legs were very badly scarred. But when I asked my (adopted) 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. I’ve since been to a few doctors and they said they’d never seen anything like it, so many injections… I had eight injections between my two arms and two on my legs… I have been to a few doctors and they said they can’t understand it.”
One of the nuns at Bessborough House, the Mother Superior, Sister Sarto, recalled the trials taking place, but insisted consent was given by parents.
She told Newstalk, “The doctor would come here and say could they carry out this experiment and the mothers would bring the child into the doctor’s. You couldn’t do it without the mother’s permission. It was a choice... we checked it out to see if there were ill effects, and nobody died, nobody had any ill effects. A doctor came out from the Southern Health Board and took the records with her.”
Susan Lohan, co-founder of the Adoption Rights Alliance, told the radio station that any claims that the parents of the children gave permission for the trials to take place are “not credible.”
“The mothers of the children were not consulted on anything regarding their children’s welfare,” she said.
“I find it, frankly, not credible, that the managers of those places would have made an exception when it came to the vaccine trials.”
GlaxoSmithKline, which took over the drug firm that ran the trials, Burroughs Welcome, has said it will co-operate with any investigation.
There were no laws governing medical testing in Ireland until 1987.
Fifty-eight children took part in a trial into polio and diptheria vaccines in December 1960. The results were published in the British Medical Journal in 1962.
A previous enquiry into vaccine trials in Irish care homes ran into legal difficulties when Professor Patrick Meenan, one of six authors of the study and then aged 86, said he should not have to appear on grounds of his age and ill health.
The enquiry was halted in 2003.
Irish society has been rocked by wave after wave of reports of institutional child abuse since the publication in 2009 of the first official report into abuse at care homes, which were often run by nuns and monks. There has since been a shocking litany of thousands of cases of physical and sexual abuse of children.
Minister for Children Charlie Flanagan today announced a Commission of Inquiry with full statutory powers into all mother and baby homes.
He said he hoped the inquiry would also investigate allegations of forced adoption and controversial vaccine trials carried out on children without their mother’s permission.
Speaking to RTE Radio One, he said: “I will be actively seeking consensus from across the political spectrum.”
The enquiry is of course welcome, however, the fact that children were ever used as a convenient population on which to test out new drugs is yet another indication of the appalling lack of respect for the rights of these unfortunate and blameless children.