Vaccine trial victims
in court bid to lift veil on experiments
By Patricia McDonagh
Irish Independent Tuesday January 04 2011
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.
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.
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
Correspondence seen by
the Irish Independent shows the organisations continue to hold documents
on the trials.
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
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
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.
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