9,000 children died in Ireland’s Mother and Baby Homes

Site of the mass grave at the Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home, Tuam, Galway

THE SHOCKING depth and breadth of the scandalous cruelty and murderous treatment of unmarried mothers and their children by the Catholic Church and the Irish State throughout most of the 20th century is at last being exposed following the belated publication of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes last week.

The inquiry was set up in February 2012 after a massive number of baby corpses were discovered in the sewage system at one of the homes, in Tuam, County Galway.

Local historian Catherine Corless identified that 950 babies had died in mysterious circumstances at the home, sparking a wave of outrage. All were children of unmarried mothers.

The long-awaited report from the Commission of Investigation found that up to 9,000 children died in 18 institutions between 1922 and the closure of the last such home in 1998 – about 15% of all the children who were in the institutions.

The Commission said: ‘In the years before 1960 mother and baby homes did not save the lives of “illegitimate” children; in fact, they appear to have significantly reduced their prospects of survival.

‘The very high mortality rates were known to local and national authorities at the time and were recorded in official publications.’

One of the scandalous revelations in the Mother and Baby Homes Commission Report is the identification of a total of 13 vaccine trials that took place amongst those in the homes in the period covered by its remit (1922-1998).

The Irish vaccine experiments on babies broke the Nazi Nuremberg Code rules and have resulted in comparisons with what Nazi doctors did in medical experiments to countless victims in concentration camps.

The report said that seven of these vaccine trials took place in the institutions it investigated between 1934 and 1973 and were illegal and unethical even by the standards of the time.

It said that scientists lacked the correct research licences and failed to comply with contemporary regulatory standards.

The report concluded that these trials would have been a basic breach of the Nuremberg Code, following the trial of Nazi doctors accused of conducting murderous and torturous human experiments in the Nazi concentration camps during World War II.

The Commission’s report contains a list of the trials:

1930 Trial of Wellcome anti-diphtheria vaccine on 142 children in two unidentified orphanages and to 436 children aged between eight months and 14 years among the general child population in Cork city.

1934 Trial of Wellcome anti-diphtheria vaccine on 24 children, varying in age from seven months to 14 years, resident in the Dublin Union, later known as St Pat’s.

1934-36 Trial of Wellcome ‘one-shot’ anti-diphtheria vaccine to 250 children in an unidentified residential institution for boys and to 2,541 children among the general population in Co Cork.

1935 Trial of Wellcome vaccine on 46 children, aged four to 15 years, resident in St Vincent’s Industrial School, Goldenbridge, St Joseph’s School for Deaf Boys, Cabra, and St Saviour’s Orphanage, Lower Dominick Street, Dublin.

1935 Trial of Wellcome anti-diphtheria vaccine in children’s residential institutions in Tipperary.

The report says the number of children involved, and their age range, suggests that the trial was undertaken in the three industrial schools in Tipperary South: St Bernard’s Industrial School, Fethard; St Francis’s Industrial School, Cashel; and St Joseph’s Industrial School, Ferryhouse, Clonmel.

1960/1961 Trial of Wellcome Quadruple (4 in 1) vaccine ‘Quadrivax’ on 58 infants and children resident in a number of institutions, including Bessborough, St Patrick’s Home, Navan Road (Pelletstown); Dunboyne; and Castlepollard.

The other institutions involved were St Clare’s Home, Stamullen and Mount Carmel Industrial School, Moate.

1964 Trial of Wellcome ‘Wellcovax’ measles vaccine on 12 children living in Sean Ross.

1964/65 Trial of Glaxo Laboratories ‘Mevilin-L’ measles vaccine on children living in Bessborough and St Patrick’s, Navan Road (Pelletstown).

1965 Trial of Glaxo Laboratories ‘Quintuple’ (5 in 1) vaccine on children in Bessborough and St Patrick’s, Navan Road (Pelletstown).

1968/1969 Trial of Glaxo Laboratories ‘Mevilin-L’ measles vaccine on at least 30 children resident in St Patrick’s, Navan Road (Pelletstown).

1970 Trial of Wellcome’s Rubella vaccine on 72 children living in the general community and 69 children aged between two and 18 years old ‘resident in an orphanage in a suburb of Dublin.’

1973 Trial of Wellcome’s modified DTP vaccine on 65 children in the general community and 53 children resident in St Patrick’s, Navan Road (Pelletstown), and in three residential children’s homes.

1965 Possible oral polio vaccine trial in St Patrick’s, Navan Road (Pelletstown).

The Commission also confirmed that two milk trials first reported in the Irish Examiner, had taken place.

They were clinical trials into experimental infant milk conducted in St Pat’s Navan Road (Pelletstown), and Bessborough in 1968/69.

The Nuremberg Code says, in part, that in terms of any medical experiment ‘the voluntary consent of the human subject is absolutely essential. This means that the person involved should have legal capacity to give consent; should be so situated as to be able to exercise free power of choice, without the intervention of any element of force, fraud, deceit, duress, overreaching, or another ulterior form of constraint or coercion.’

The untried vaccine programme was led in Ireland by the distinguished leading biologist Professor Patrick Meenan, who was also a key government advisor on the issue.

He later stated: ‘There was a tradition of doing testing in orphanages. You went to where the material was, to put it crudely.’

The trials all involved either the Wellcome Foundation or Glaxo Laboratories, which later combined to form GlaxoSmithKline.

GSK claimed it had cooperated fully with the Commission and provided copies of documents in its archives.

In a statement, GSK said:  ‘The report makes for difficult reading and our thoughts are with the families involved.

‘The report does not reflect how clinical studies are conducted today.’

Trials were carried out on infants in thirteen Mother and Baby Homes.

The Commission investigating the vaccine issue found that until 1987 the legal status of the unmarried mothers there was simply ‘illegitimate’ – giving them no rights in law.

It also said that ‘where the children who were subjected to vaccine trials were accompanied in the institutions by their mothers, the mother was the person whose consent should have been sought.’

However, it stressed: ‘In no case is there evidence that consent of the birth mother was properly sought or received.’

The existence of a trial at Bessborough of an experimental ‘5 in 1’ vaccine (anti-diphtheria, polio, tetanus, whooping cough and measles) was confirmed by the Commission, which said it has identified ‘a number of the children involved’.

A survivor of Bessborough Mother and Baby Home in Cork criticised the finding of the Commission that there is ‘no evidence of injury to the children involved as a result of the vaccines’.

Mari Steed said she was injected in 1960 before being adopted by a couple in the US.

She said: ‘How would they know? I was never followed up after I was sent to the US.

‘My adoptive parents didn’t know I’d been used in a trial. I’ve never been offered any screening by the State (or the Commission) to see if my current health at age 60 has been affected.’

Medical records obtained by Ms Steed show she was administered a trial ‘4 in 1’ vaccine (anti-diphtheria, polio, tetanus and whooping cough).

Philip Delaney, whose vaccine records suggest he was also part of this trial when he was an infant, said: ‘How do they know there were no ill effects? We don’t even know which infants were involved in this trial.’