Hundreds of Irish
babies used in medical research and dissection
Babies used as research subjects without single mothers’ consent
By JORDANA KOZUPSKY,
IrishCentral.com Saturday, October 8, 2011
A disturbing documentary that ran on RTÉ’s Prime Time revealed the
gruesome fact that hundreds of Irish babies born out of wedlock were
used in medical research without their mothers’ consent.
The babies were mostly taken from children’s residential institutions
or ‘Mother and Baby Homes’. Hundreds of bodies of dead babies were
sent from the homes to Irish Medical colleges, and other, live babies
were vaccinated in the homes with experimental drugs and closely
monitored for side effects.
The Adoption Rights Alliance call the experiments “an utter contempt
for children born outside of marriage and for their mothers.”
Although the research on the dead babies was conducted by medical
students, the experiments on the live children with the vaccines were in
the control of a pharmaceutical company.
According to the documentary, the Polio vaccine was developed during the
1950’s. While this led to a decreases in such diseases as diphtheria,
tetanus, and whooping cough, it did require an increase in the amount of
child research performed. Much of the research was consequently
performed in children’s institutions or homes for single mothers,
because of the high concentration of the children in one area. The
experiments were carried out through the 1960s, but it is only now that
the public outrage has truly set in.
According to the documentary, “in the mid 20th century, it was much
easier for research to do research on a captive population where
you’ve got all the subjects you’ve might want for the study, all
there in one place.” Patrick Meenan, one of the leaders of the
studies, justified his choice of study participants as there was “a
tradition of doing testing in orphanages. You went to where the material
was, to put it crudely.”
Meenan, who was a microbiologist at University College Dublin as well as
a government advisor, and Irene Hillary led the vaccine studies. Their
goal was to make better, cheaper vaccines with fewer side effects in
partnership with a leading pharmaceutical company. Thus, they wanted
large numbers of children who could be easily monitored without having
to deal with getting consent.
Ireland’s Minister for Health, James Reilly, and the Minister for
Children, Frances Fitzgerald, were both called upon to lead inquiries.
The Alliance claims that the failure of the previous audits to reveal
the extent to which the children were actually used for the research is
something that needs to be investigated immediately.
To date, only three trials have been confirmed, totalling to
approximately two hundred babies in 1960, 1970, and 1973. There are no
records that show consent from the mothers in the homes. “It was clear
from the report that there was no parental consent,” reports the
documentary. “There was a violation of the physical integrity of the
Also featured in the film were the survivors of such institutions, those
that live to tell the tale of the horrible conditions they were raised
in. One woman who grew up in a mother-and-baby home claims that “we
were there for them to do whatever they wanted to us...we were the
lowest of the lowest. We were reminded of that so many times. Many of
these women especially are having trouble locating their birth records,
as are Irish-born people that were raised in America. These institutions
were funded by the government and run by nuns, the largest of which
catered to hundreds of women and their babies.
Says one survivor of the vaccine trials: “The most frightening thought
to me is that anyone...would deem it appropriate to use children that
you...simply go into a home with vulnerable children...and to not seek
our mother’s permission...it just to me seems like bad science.”
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