Irish Orphans Used As 'Drug Guinea Pigs' In 1930s, Unveiled Records Show

By McCarton Ackerman 06/11/14

The records surfaced at the same time a mass grave at one of the testing sites was recently discovered.

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Recently unveiled medical records from the 1930s are making headlines in Ireland after showing that more than 2,000 local orphans were used as drug guinea pigs, with one of the test sites being a recently discovered mass grave.

The Irish Daily Mail recently exposed the medical records, which showed that 2,051 children and babies in numerous foster homes across the country may have been given diphtheria vaccine shots by international drug company Burroughs Welcome. The secret drug tests were conducted shortly before the medications were made available for sale in the UK.

“What I have found is just the tip of a very large and submerged iceberg,” said Michael Dwyer, of Cork University’s School of History. “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.”

Because there were no laws in Ireland relating to medical testing until 1987, orphan children were still used as drug guinea pigs even decades after these experiments. An Irish television show also revealed this week that 300 children living in orphanages were used in medical trials during the 60s and 70s.

Christy, a former child resident of Bessborough House in Cork, has numerous vaccine marks on his arms and legs as a result of the testing done on him when he was too young to remember. “I remember speaking to my mum and I asked her why I’d do many marks on my body. She said ‘I don’t know’ and said ‘when you arrived your arms were sore and bandaged,'" he recalled. “Most people from my generation have one, if not two, that’s it, not as many as me.”

The new reports were released at the same time that a mass grave for 800 children was discovered in Tuan, western Ireland. Irish Premier Enda Kenny has since ordered ministers in the country to begin searching for further mass baby graves.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.