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Shocking abuse of innocents
By Editor, The Southern Star Saturday October 15th, 2011

LAST Thursday night’s Prime Time special investigation by journalist Katie Hannon on RTÉ One television revealed another truly shocking catalogue of abuse of innocent children in institutions run by various religious orders on behalf of the State some fifty years or so ago. Not only were children in mother and baby homes used as guinea pigs for the testing of vaccines, those who died had their bodies taken away and dissected for medical science research without any parental consent.

The authorities obviously shared the attitude of the Roman Catholic Church that these children did not matter because they were the illegitimate offspring of women who had committed the awful sin of becoming unmarried mothers. In those days, women who became pregnant outside of wedlock were effectively forced to go into mother and baby homes so that the awful shame our priest-ridden society heaped upon them could be hidden behind closed doors.

The Adoption Rights Alliance (ARA) is, quite rightly, calling on the Minister for Health and the Minister for Children to establish a statutory inquiry into these practices, whose revelation have added another shameful chapter to the history of abuse perpetrated by the Church and State against children, and their mothers, aided in abetted in this case by multi-national drugs manufacturers and academia – with various universities also having major ethical questions to answer.

A defence that some might try to offer that that was the way things were then would not only be unacceptable, but a heartless and a further slur on those who suffered because the authorities treated the children in these homes and their mothers with such utter contempt. The attitude in the middle decades of the 20th century, according to the ARA, was that children who were born outside of marriage were viewed as ‘nobody’s children,’ disposable and therefore reduced to the status of mere commodities to be used by Church and State as they saw fit. 

Such inhumanity would be unconscionable in this day and age and properly regarded as an abuse of human rights, made all the more insidious by the fact that it was being facilitated by the so-called upholders of moral authority at the time. The children in mother and baby homes were convenient to use for vaccine trials because they were not afforded the same rights as others, parental consent was not sought and the authorities took it upon themselves to give the go-ahead without any regard for what the mothers felt about it.

The children in these homes who survived were adopted and would have been unaware for most of their lives that they had been used in such trials. All their adoptive parents would have been told by the authorities was that they had received their vaccinations.

Now that these vaccination trials have emerged into the public domain, people who were adopted have experienced difficulties accessing their medical records from the religious orders who ran these homes for the State in order to establish what vaccines they had received as children and a veil of secrecy continues to frustrate their efforts. All most of them want from their files are the medical details – not possibly still confidential information such as the identity of their birth mother.

Not releasing such medical information, if it exists on file, is adding insult to injury for the people affected. One way the authorities can start to make up for the abominable treatment meted out in the past is by being sensitive to their needs and by doing their best to accommodate all requests.

As for the scandal of allowing the bodies of some 400 deceased babies from mother and baby homes to be used for medical and anatomical experiments without parental consent, the worst part was that the mothers were denied an opportunity to bury their children with dignity. It is amazing that previous inquiries into organ retention practices, etc failed to uncover the practice of using the bodies of deceased children from homes for research.

Urgent honest answers are owed to those affected.

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“In all of us there is a hunger, marrow-deep, to know our heritage, to know who we are and where we have come from. Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning . . . and the most disquieting loneliness." 

Alex Haley, Author of Roots 





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