The Catholic Church and religious run Irish care homes have been engulfed in further controversy after startling reports that thousands of Irish children were used as guinea pigs in secret drugs trials in the 1930s.
The report author says there is no evidence that consent was ever sought. Nor is there any information about how the children were affected, whether any died or developed illnesses.
These latest revelations follow the news last week that the bodies of up to 800 babies and infants had been discovered in a septic tank near a former care home in Tuam in Co Galway.
That scandal prompted Taioseach Enda Kenny to order an investigation to see whether there are mass graves alongside other former care homes once run by religious orders.
The allegations about the drugs trials were made by Michael Dwyer of Cork University’s history department. The Mail Online reports that Mr Dwyer studied thousands of archive files.
What we’ve found is just the tip of the iceberg
He discovered that more than 2,000 care home children were used to test a diphtheria vaccine on behalf of the international drugs company Burroughs Welcome between 1930 and 1936.
The evidence suggested that the testing took place at the care homes at Bessborough in Co Cork and Sean Ross Abbey in Tipperary. Other institutions run by religious orders in Ireland may also have been involved.
Mr Dwyer told the Mail: “What I have found is just the tip of a very large and submerged iceberg.
“The fact that no record of these trials can be found in the files relating to the Department of Local Government and Public Health, the Municipal Health Reports relating to Cork and Dublin, or the Wellcome Archives in London, suggests that vaccine trials would not have been acceptable to government, municipal authorities, or the general public.
“However, the fact that reports of these trials were published in the most prestigious medical journals suggests that this type of human experimentation was largely accepted by medical practitioners and facilitated by authorities in charge of children’s residential institutions.”
The activities described are clearly very distressing
A spokesman for GSK, formerly Wellcome, told the Mail he would welcome an inquiry and added: “The activities that have been described to us date back over 70 years and, if true, are clearly very distressing.
“We would need further details to investigate what actually took place, but the practices outlined certainly don’t reflect how modern clinical trials are carried out. We conduct our trials to the same high scientific and ethical standards, no matter where in the world they are run.”
The Sisters of Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary were the order that ran Bessborough and Sean Ross Abbey. They too said they would also welcome an independent inquiry.
Taioseach Kenny has already ordered an inquiry into the discovery of the mass grave at Tuam. The opposition Fianna Faíl leader Micheál Martin says the inquiry should be broadened to include an investigation into these latest allegations about drug trials.