Deceased babies and those house in state homes were tested on by pharmaceutical companies into the late 1960sGoogle Images

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.

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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 children.”

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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