victim seeks justice to right 50-year-old wrong
McDonagh, Irish Independent, 21st August 2010
Mari Steed gave up her baby for adoption as a teenager, it sparked an
emotional search for the identity of her own birth mother.
she had no idea that the journey into her past would throw up stark
revelations about her involvement in a controversial vaccine-testing
regime as a baby.
when Mari finally tracked her mother Josephine to the UK, she found that
no parental permission had been given for the experimental injections
administered to her as a two-year-old.
paths the two women had taken -- both giving up their babies for
adoption when very young -- bore eerie similarities and brought them
a story spanning four decades, three generations and two continents left
a fractured family with more questions than answers.
planned legal action is a last-ditch attempt to seek justice after a
formal state probe was abandoned.
was a vulnerable nine-month-old baby when she was first given the
controversial 'four-in-one' vaccine.
the time she was two, the experimental vaccine had been injected into
her tiny body on at least four separate occasions.
mother Josephine said her permission was never sought or given, from
either the multinational drug company responsible for the vaccine
trials, nor the Sacred Heart order.
happened to mothers like myself and the babies at that home was
cruel," said Josephine, who lives in the UK.
didn't ask me for my permission to give her that shot; they didn't ask
doctors and nurses gave my daughter the injection and I didn't know what
it was for," she added.
babies were crying all day after it, but they wouldn't tell us what was
am still angry and would like an apology for what happened."
illegitimate child herself, Josephine arrived at the Bessborough mother
and baby home in Cork in 1959, after falling pregnant while working in
April 1960, she gave birth to Mari, naming her Mary Therese Fitzpatrick.
was breastfed by my mother and I have photos of both of us celebrating
my first birthday at the home," said Mari, who has since dropped
the 'y' from her name.
experienced real interactive care from my mother. She played with me and
I was happy in as much as you can be in a situation like that."
despite their growing bond, Josephine was left in the dark when medics
came to conduct vaccine trials for the Wellcome Foundation.
she handed her daughter over to participate, she had not been told the
injections were part of a trial for the four-in-one vaccine.
almost 50 years later, Mari is determined to get justice for the trauma
she endured at Bessborough between 1960 and 1961.
the 1960s and 1970s three separate vaccine trials were conducted on
Irish children on behalf of multinational drugs company The Wellcome
Foundation, now known as GlaxoSmithKline.
was involved in the first trial, which sought to find out what would
happen if four vaccines were combined in one jab.
got up to four different shots of the vaccine. My mother later told me
that I reacted by vomiting after one jab," she said.
feel the trials showed incredibly poor judgment on the part of all
involved. It was bad science on the part of Wellcome.
never got my mother's consent for this. My mother only recalls being
told they needed to 'give the baby routine jabs'."
so-called four-in-one jab had never been tried in Britain or Ireland
before and the effect of administering it to infants was unclear.
standard approach had always been to provide a combined three-in-one
vaccination for diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis, over three or four
injections. Following this, the doctor would give the child three
separate jabs to prevent against polio.
was one of 24 infants who received the new four-in-one shot, which
combined the three-in-one and a separate polio jab.
was administered over four injections and the aim was to compare the
antibody levels of children who got this new vaccine and those who had
received the standard set of shots.
medical records show she received her first injection on December 9,
1960 and another on January 6, 1961.
being ill after the third injection on January 7, 1961, she was given
her fourth and final shot on February 10, 1961, and a booster shot of
polio on October 3, 1961.
Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, also known as the Laffoy
Commission, began to investigate the vaccine trials in 2001. But it
never got off the ground, following court actions by two doctors
involved in the trials.
means that Mari, who now lives in Philadelphia, and more than 211
children used as guinea pigs in the three trials have never received a
formal public apology for what happened on behalf of the State.
want Health Minister Mary Harney to apologise, but I think pigs will fly
before that ever happens."
and her mother, Josephine Fitzpatrick -- who were only reunited in
October 2002 -- both gave evidence to the Laffoy Commission before it
the four decades since she had last seen her mother, Mari had been
adopted by an American couple and brought to Philadelphia.
mother knew she couldn't provide for me and was resigned to the fact
that I had to go away," she said. "It was heartbreaking for
her. She knew when she was signing the papers to hand me over that she
would have to let me go."
arrived in the US on December 1, 1961, and her adoption was formalised
in July of 1963.
said her parents, Helena and Joseph, gave her a "normal
childhood" but also ensured she knew about her past.
her senior year in high school, a chain of events bizarrely mirroring
her birth mother's experience back in Ireland prompted Mari to begin an
epic search into her origins which has spanned four decades.
1978, during my senior year, I got pregnant by my high- school
boyfriend," she recalled.
adopted mother wanted me to give up the baby. I was sent to a mother and
baby home in Philadelphia and cut off from my family.
was pretty miserable there and I was totally powerless."
she said the harrowing experience enabled to her to identify with that
of her mother.
was very hard to give up my daughter Kerry. It drove home the idea that
this was a generational thing in my family," she said.
had never felt abandoned or rejected when my mother gave me up. I just
felt she had no choice -- and I felt that more so when I gave up my own
was not until she was working at a university in Florida in 1993 that
Mari came across an Irish heritage researcher who helped her search for
many adopted people, she had found it hard to track down some of the
information relating to her past.
the fact that she had been allowed to keep her birth name meant she
could access her birth certificate and, crucially, the medical records
that provided her with evidence of the controversial vaccine trials.
2001, the final piece of the jigsaw puzzle fell into place and she
tracked down her mother.
guy who had rented a flat from my mother said he would help," she
and daughter were finally reunited in October 2002. But both are still
haunted by the vaccine trials they were unwittingly involved in more
than 50 years ago.
were using children without any knowledge of their medical
history," Mari said.
was no chance of a follow-up, as many, like myself, were being adopted
to the US or elsewhere.
I was giving evidence to the Laffoy Commission, I just kept thinking
that I was only a baby when this happened and couldn't do a thing to
here to return to the news page